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Freshman Year of High School Can Be Tough. 4 Tips to Smooth the Transition

The transition from middle school to high school is not always easy for students—or their parents. Eighth graders are the oldest students – the leaders – in their familiar middle school world.

But in high school things change. Now freshmen are the youngest students in an unfamiliar, more mature community. Now standards are higher, and grades count.

How can a freshman begin high school well, and how can a parent be helpful in this transition to high school?

4 Tips for Transitioning to High School:

1. Encourage your freshman to join something.

People perform best when they are comfortable in their circumstances. So it is important for freshmen to feel at home in their new high school. They should be open to making new friends and connecting with adults. And they should find something they like to do in high school—an extracurricular activity, an athletic team, an interesting class. Rising freshman who join a fall sport get to know a number of students, including upper classmen, before classes even begin. And that makes for a welcoming first day of high school.

2. View freshman year of high school as the period where your teenager learns how to be a high school student.

Freshmen succeed academically in high school by choosing to reach for their best on a daily basis, and they should recognize that their goal is to work routinely in their upper range. We live in a time when many parents are anxious about their child’s ability to get into a top college, and this anxiety can lead them to have unrealistic expectations for their child and to micromanage their child’s performance in high school.

Instead, parents should see the first two semesters of high school as a time when students are developing the study habits and attitudes to succeed in the next six semesters. As their teachers are coaching students in study skills as part of the freshman curriculum, parents should complement this effort at home.

Studies suggest that individuals are motivated to learn when they are praised not for their talent or intelligence, but for their ability to work hard and improve. So compliment your child for effort and progress. Remember that the only grade that appears on a high school transcript is the end-of-year grade, so give your child the time to learn, develop, and perform at a higher standard.

3. Help your high school freshman establish effective routines.

Parents play an important role as well in creating a routine for studying at home. Early on in the school year, come to an agreement about the time and place for studying each evening, and let this become a family routine for the next four years. It is helpful to set boundaries for homework: no cell phones or television, computers for academic purposes only and otherwise set aside. Many students find the kitchen table a better place to do homework than their bedroom. This public space allows parents to monitor productivity and to be available for questions.

4. Encourage your freshman to advocate for him/herself.

One of the great lessons for freshmen is to become advocates for themselves and, in time, steward their own education. First and foremost, we want high school students to be active and present in class and to do their work with the intention to learn. If something does not make sense in class, they should ask a question. If a homework assignment is challenging, they should go after it.  Reach. If the homework remains stubbornly difficult, the next day they should ask their teacher for help, either in class or during a free period.

Still having freshman problems? Try this article:

As parents we do not wish to see our children struggle. At such moments, we should recommend that they advocate for themselves rather than step in to contact the teacher ourselves. We want our children to look to themselves to solve problems and meet challenges. We deny them an important lesson if we come to their aid too readily.

William E. O’Neil, Ph.D. is the Assistant Headmaster and Upper School Director of University School, Hunting Valley, Ohio.

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