How Parents Can Support Kids Starting High School This Fall

Updated: August 3, 2021
Starting high school is a rite of passage for teens, but for many it can be a daunting and challenging time. Here are tips for parents to help ease their child's worries about starting high school.
Supporting High School Students

Starting high school is an exciting time in your child’s life. The transition from middle school to the big campus involves new teachers, new friends, and an abundance of new school activities, including clubs, electives, sports teams, and musical organizations.

More: Top 10 Skills for High School Students

A child’s high school career can significantly impact their future. For example, it can affect where or if they attend college; they may learn a trade or specialized skill or win a scholarship based on athletic or musical ability.

While a high school freshman has plenty of time to figure out where their life is headed, their freshman year is their first step towards adulthood and their future.

Both you and your child are likely feeling some anxiety, and if you are reading this, you are seeking ways to support your child even before the first day of school starts. We’ve compiled an actionable list of things you can do to support your high schooler, covering everything from time management to homework to mental health, to help them gain the most from their high school experience!

Get Involved

One of the top ways to help your child succeed in high school is to be involved with their school and education. Volunteer for school events, chaperone field trips, or if your child is mortified by the idea of you being present, find a way to volunteer behind the scenes.

Staying involved keeps you aware of the school culture, connects you with other parents, and shows your child that you are invested in them and their education. Ensure they know you are not volunteering to be a spy or “check” on them and figure out ways you can stay involved that won’t step on their toes.

Some ways you can be involved are:

  • Help build sets for the school play/musical
  • Organize or volunteer for fundraising events
  • Volunteer as a team parent for their sport
  • Work the concession stand at sporting events
  • Attend their performances and games
  • Join the PTA
  • Chaperone dances and field trips
  • Present for career day
  • Volunteer in the library or as a tutor

Visit the School

You’ve probably been doing school visits since kindergarten, but high school is no different. Attend any beginning of the year meet and greets and opportunities to tour the campus and meet teachers ahead of time.

At the end of the previous school year, see if there are any opportunities for your middle schooler to visit a high school class for the day or to shadow a high school student.

As a parent, attend any beginning of the year parent-teacher conferences and visit the school website together.

Teach them Organization and Time Management

If your child struggles with organization and time management, now is the time to help them get a grasp on it. High school is full of activities and events that can enhance but also distract from school work. If your child is involved with extracurricular activities, they must learn how to manage their time properly, so they do not become stressed out and mentally or physically worn down.

Your child’s temperament will determine what works best for them, but there are several different ways you can help your child stay focused and organized.

  • Use a journal or notebook to record all assignments in one place
  • Make a daily or weekly to-do list
  • Set reminders or timers on their phones to keep them on track
  • Create a weekly visual schedule (dry-erase calendars work great!)
  • Create a dedicated homework space with quality lighting and limited distractions
  • Offer rewards if they reach all their goals for the week
    • An extra hour out with their friends
    • A bonus hour of computer time
    • A trip to their favorite store to pick out a new shirt

Be Aware of Cliques, Cyberbullying, and Social Media

Kids today have to deal with a level of social interactions we never dreamed of. According to data collected by Smart Social, the average teen in the U.S. spent 7 hours and 22 minutes engaged daily in screen media, and one in three children reported being cyberbullied.

As your child moved out of primary school into middle school, they likely did so with their set group of friends and have had some experience with cliques and teasing; it is an unfortunate part of growing up. But as your child moves to the bigger campus of high school, these friend groups may alter, leaving your child feeling somewhat adrift.

Be aware of the school’s bullying and disciplinary policies and where to turn if you need help. It is also crucial that you let your child know you will not tolerate any bullying or negative behavior on their part, and you will stand by the school if your child is discovered to be out of line.

Keep an open line of communication with your child and let them know they can always come to you to talk. Use parental controls and monitoring services on their devices and insist that you have access to their profiles on any social media accounts. Many children are afraid of reporting their cyberbully out of fear of retaliation.

If you notice any changes in your child’s behavior, such as appetite, sleep, bathroom habits, frequent headaches or stomach aches, unexplained scratches or bruises, not wanting to go to school anymore, no close friends, or frequently lost items, it is possible your child is being bullied. Start by talking with your child, and if you still have concerns contact the school.

Your child may feel more comfortable talking to a school counselor or trusted teacher, so encourage them to find a trusted adult to speak with if at any time they are struggling.

Explore Clubs and Sports

Take time to go over the extracurricular activities available with your child. For example, if they’re already involved with music, sports, or drama, do they wish to continue those activities? Perhaps high school will offer some new opportunities that middle school didn’t have, such as a golf team or French club.

Discover whether the activities they’re interested in require an audition or try out or if they can simply join. Some clubs may require fees or previous experience, while others may be open to anyone with interest.

If they have some anxiety about joining an activity, see if they can find a friend who would like to sign up with them or if they can meet the teacher or staff mentor first.

Maintain A Sleep Schedule

You probably remember sleep schedules from when your child was a baby or a toddler, but teenagers often need them too. The unfortunate reality with most U.S. schools is that high school start times do not support the natural sleep rhythms of a teenager. As children hit puberty, their biological sleep rhythm shifts, and most students would benefit from a later start time, around 9 AM. Even though you probably cannot change your child’s school time, there are steps you can take to ensure they get enough sleep.

Your teenager needs roughly 9 hours of sleep per night. When teens are sleep deprived, it affects their mood, concentration, academic performance, and overall behavior. To help your child get adequate sleep, consider the following steps:

  • Maintain a sleep schedule
  • Avoid sleeping in incredibly late on the weekends
  • Encourage short naps in the afternoon
  • Turn off all electronics an hour before bed
  • Avoid caffeine

Provide Homework Support

It is no surprise that high school means more homework, and while educators will debate the benefits of piles of homework each night, most likely, your teen is going to have to complete their fair share.

High school students in the U.S. spend an average of 17.5 hours weekly on homework. That’s a lot of time on top of an already packed school day and potential extracurricular activities. GPA is considered important in schools, and many colleges look to your child’s GPA as an indicator of their ability to handle college classwork.

Even if you aren’t overly concerned about your child’s class ranking at graduation, you still want them to do their best and to feel successful. Offer to help if you see them struggling. If the subject is beyond your ability (hello algebra and physics!), offer to get them a tutor or help them create a study group.

Study groups are highly effective because they reduce procrastination, offer a different perspective or way of looking at a topic, help your child learn varied study skills, and offer them real-world experience by working cooperatively with others.

The coronavirus pandemic changed the way students went to school and studied, so if an in-person study group isn’t feasible, look for an online group or virtual tutoring.

Talk About School

Open the floor to discussions about what high school will be like and discuss any fears or anxieties they may have about the next year. Then, remind them of all the positive and fun experiences they will have and make back to school fun with a shopping trip for supplies and clothing.

If there are any new experiences, perhaps they were a walker before and will now ride the bus, go over what it will be like, and discuss expectations. If your child is selecting electives for the first time, make it a fun experience by going over all the options together and figuring out what interests them the most.

Encourage Summer Reading

If your child is not a natural reader, encourage them to read daily over the summer. Don’t fret about what they are reading; instead, try to make it a part of their daily or weekly schedule. Comic books, magazines, and e-books are all reading! Figure out what interests them and provide access to those materials. Present them with their own library card if they don’t have one, and set the example by reading yourself. If they genuinely need the motivation to read, create a reward system that, for every 10 minutes of reading time, they earn something they’d like in return. Rewards could be monetary, time with friends, or bonus electronic time.

Teach Self-Advocacy

High school is a time to learn about independence and it is an excellent opportunity to teach your child how to be their own self-advocate. If they are struggling in a class, encourage them to approach the teacher for extra help or an extra credit assignment. If they forgot to do an assignment until the last minute, support them, but don’t do it for them. If they get a poor grade this time, it will teach them to plan better in the future.

Allow them to make decisions for themselves (within reason) about their class schedule, extracurricular activities, and their friends. Allowing independence is a big part of the high school experience.

Your job is still to oversee their schooling and make sure they have what they need to survive. However, if they forget their gym clothes or violin one day instead of dropping everything and rushing it over to the school, perhaps it can be a good lesson on responsibility and taking care of their own needs. Explore more if the Freshman Year Grades Were Terrible.