Parenting in High School by Alice Wellborn


Do you have a child in high school this year? High school is a time of growth and change for kids – and for their parents! The high school years go very quickly. A ninth grader walks in the front door, parents blink their eyes, and a senior is walking across the stage at graduation. Where did the time go?

High school is the end of the process of preparing children for the real world. High school teachers practice tough love and hold their students accountable. They do not enjoy making life difficult for their students, but they expect them to be responsible for their own behavior and learning. The job of a high school teacher is to prepare students for college and careers, not to make the students happy. The job of a high school teacher is to help their students learn how to function independently. This is much easier and more effective when parents get on board!

Part of preparing students for the real world is allowing them to make mistakes and figure out solutions – allowing them to fall flat on their faces, get up, brush off, and move on. Part of growing up is learning that you don’t always get what you want – that things don’t always work out for you. My favorite high school teacher says, “Let kids screw it up, get advice, and try again. Don’t swoop in and fix everything.”

Parents will notice that they get less communication with teachers at the high school level. Feel free to call or email, but the teachers expect the students to take the lead in asking for help. The teachers will not fill parents in on every little thing that happens in school. To be successful in high school and college, students have to be self-motivated and in charge of their own learning. Parents cannot do it for them.

Parents are close to their children and want the very best for them, so they often lack perspective and panic too soon. Teachers often have a much clearer picture of a student’s strengths and weaknesses as compared to others of the same age, and that can be very helpful to parents. Teachers, counselors, and school psychologists can help parents gain perspective and get a better understanding of their child’s gifts and challenges.

One of the things that happens in high school is that the hopes and dreams of childhood meet reality, and that can be hard. The boy who always wanted to join the Air Force and fly airplanes might find that he doesn’t meet the vision requirements, or he doesn’t get accepted at the Air Force Academy. The girl who always wanted to be a doctor might fail Biology or struggle with Chemistry or faint at the sight of blood in the Health Occupations class. Again, we don’t always get what we want, and high school is usually the time when the rubber meets the road and students have to accept their strengths and limitations.

How can parents can help their high school student? Here are some ideas:

Stay involved and stay informed, but let your teenager take the lead in managing his school life and school work. Self-direction is an important life skill!

Support and attend school events. It’s still important to be part of the school community.

Volunteer when you find a good opportunity. In high school, these opportunities often involve chaperoning students on a trip, mentoring students, fund-raising, or helping out at sporting events.

Know the classes your child is taking and meet the teachers. Check in with teachers if necessary, but don’t take over responsibilities that belong to your student.

Be honest, and help your teenager celebrate gifts and accept challenges. It’s time to accept reality and build on strengths. Nobody can “be whatever you want to be” – that’s just not true and to say it is telling a lie.

Require your child to respect school rules – including dress codes, regulations for cell phone use, and athletic eligibility requirements.

Intervene immediately if your teenager gets off track with delinquent behavior, substance abuse problems, or truancy. Support school rules and accept school discipline procedures. Ask for help from counselors, school psychologists, school resource officers, school social workers, or school nurses. This is your best chance to get your son or daughter back on the road to success. Don’t wait!

High school is your last chance to let your children try out their wings while you’re still there to help pick up the pieces if they fall. Let them try things on their own, make mistakes, and figure out their own solutions. Don’t jump in to make things perfect and to protect them from their mistakes. Independence is learned, and high school is the time to learn it. It’s time to start letting your children go!