While I may not have a high school aged child just yet, I can tell you from experience that high school can be a make or break time in a child’s life. Navigating adolescence isn’t easy; for both parent and child. It’s a time of self-exploration, boundary-testing, and personal growth.
As a high school teacher of 13 years, I have personally witnessed struggling youth blossom into the most focused, mature, and self-assured young adults. I have, unfortunately, also seen sweet, innocent youth become the most belligerent, disinterested, and disengaged young adults during this short, pivotal time.
While there are obviously many outside-of-school factors that can contribute to these seemingly sudden changes in adolescent behaviour, there are some sure-fire ways to set your high schooler up for success as they venture into this new, often intimidating world.
Being a teacher, I have the privilege of speaking with parents on a daily basis to inform them of their child’s progress. Without a doubt, during the majority of these conversations, the most common question I am asked is, “What can I do to help my child be successful?”
Through observing thousands of parent/adolescent relationships over the years, there are a few key components that contribute to the overall success of a child as they venture into young adulthood. Here are a few of the most important things you can do to help your child develop into a well-rounded, successful high schooler – from the perspective of a high school teacher:
#1: Take an interest in what your teenager is doing
This doesn’t mean taking a seat on the parent counsel or going to every parent-teacher interview.
Have daily check-ins to see what is going on in school. What are they doing in their classes? What subjects are they most interested in? Are there any extra-curricular opportunities that they’re particularly excited about? Is there any homework that they are struggling with?
When you take an interest in what your child is doing in school, you show them that you too have a vested interest in their education. Believe it or not, taking an interest helps hold your child accountable for their learning and helps to guide them in the process of becoming a better, more well-aware student.
#2: Encourage your teenager to get involved in extracurricular activities
Nothing keeps a teenager out of trouble more than being involved in productive things outside of school time.
Recognize that there is so much more to high school than just getting good grades. In fact, I would argue that high school should be a place where students learn to be well-rounded, contributing members of society.
Involvement in extracurricular activities; whether these are athletic, artistic, or intellectual; helps to build a strong school and global community. It’s also pivotal in allowing students to meet with like-minded individuals and build lifelong friendships.
#3: Allow your teenager to explore and expand upon their interests outside of school
Is there anything that your teen has a particular passion for that cannot be fulfilled in their school? (e.g. private music lessons, guiding/pathfinders, cadets, dance, martial arts, etc.). The more your child is involved in outside of school, the more well-rounded they will become.
Exploring their interests is important to helping kids explore and uncover their own identities. But it has practical value as well: it teaches time management skills, teaches the value of hard work and accomplishment, and allows them to connect with other kids outside of their school circle, so they are not solely reliant upon their school friends for validation. It gives them a place to belong in the world, while also giving them something that’s uniquely their own with which to stand out from the crowd.
It also allows them to build leadership skills that can then be transferred into their school life.
#4: Get to know your teenager’s friends
Who your teen associates with is a very good indication of who your teen is themselves. You can gain valuable insight into who your teen is by getting to know their friends.
While you might not want to spend your free time entertaining your teenager’s friends (and you probably shouldn’t hover anyway), encourage them to invite their friends over. It’s important your teen knows that they have a safe space they can go to outside of school where they are able to socialize.
This also gives you a great handle on the types of friends your teenager is keeping, they types of activities they’re into, and what sort of influences are at work in their life outside of your home.
#5: Be open to discussing difficult topics with your teenager
While discussing things like sex, drugs, and puberty with your teenager might not be at the top of your “fun parenting” moments, it’s in these difficult discussions where you are able to build trust, model healthy boundaries, and instill honest and open communication skills.
These conversations can be difficult and uncomfortable, but they are essential for growth. They not only demonstrate to your teen that you think they’re mature enough to have these talks, but that you respect them enough to be honest and upfront with them. It’s also a great opportunity to get a reading on the kinds of issues they’re confronting at school, and to show that you have their back.
#6: Encourage your teenager to become a global citizen
If you have the means, allow them to accompany you on your travels. World travel not only shows kids how other people live, it gives them a greater appreciation for what they have.
It also encourages global empathy and connection. When we feel connected to something greater than ourselves, we are more determined to make a positive contribution to the world at large.
Get your child to save up their own money for that $3,000 trip to Europe. This gives them something to work towards, and they’ll see the rewards of planning ahead for a big spend that will last a lifetime. It’s also a great lesson in fiscal responsibility.
Also, even if you’re not planning a trip in the near future, be sure to make a point of discussing global issues at home. This teaches them not only about what’s going on in the wider world and their place in it, but also to believe in and fight for something larger than themselves. Global citizenship and personal responsibility go hand in hand, and it’s during the high school years that these values begin to form.
Navigating high school can be as difficult for a parent as it is for an adolescent. But with a little planning, a lot of empathy, and plenty of tightrope walking it is possible to steer your teen on the right course and set them up for a lifetime of success.
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