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Back-to-School: 10 Tips for High School Parents

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By Christina Ko

(MCT)—When students enter high school, they take on a whole new range of challenges — more adult relationships, challenging academics and college and career choices. High school is often considered one of the life’s most memorable experiences, but it can also be filled with stress and uncertainty.

Here are some tips from a local educator and parent to help smooth the transition into the new year:

1. Support your child’s dreams. Listen to what your kids have to say with an open mind and support them, especially regarding their future – if they’ll attend college, if they’ll find jobs and what they’ll do in high school.

“Supporting your kids’ dreams and motivations is very empowering for your kid,” says Celia Jaffe, president of the Fourth District PTA, the umbrella organization for parent-teacher associations in Orange County, Calif.

She recommends learning about things that students are already interested in, finding what career options are available in those fields, and seeing what they can do about it in high school.

Interest surveys can help identify where students’ strengths lie and what kind of careers would match their skills, says Mytrice Rowe, coordinator for the Orange County Department of Education’s Advancement Via Individual Determination academic support program. Also, school counselors may have interest inventories that might be helpful, Rowe adds.

2. Help them manage time, study effectively. High school brings with it a heavier workload and more extracurricular activities.

“Parents can definitely help their kids think about what’s important to them, what they have time to do,” Jaffe says. “High school kids try to do everything and they can’t necessarily have time for everything.”

She says parents should talk with their child about what’s important to the child and why. Then, there can be a combined decision: The parent gets to decide whether the child will have enough time for all activities, and the child can choose which ones to keep.

Rowe says time management is a skill that needs to be taught because teens will not learn it on their own.

She recommended students write down important school events like their athletic games and the end of the grading period, either in physical calendars or phone calendars, so they can track what needs to be done.

3. Help your teen manage stress. “Huge expectations are being placed on high school kids,” Jaffe says. “Everything is high-stakes. It can be a quite stressful environment. Having some definite time with family to rejuvenate – an activity that just fills you back up — that’s important for everyone, but stressed high school students for sure.”

To encourage participation, Jaffe says to have everyone, even the adults, participate, so the de-stressing events will become family functions everyone takes part in.

“Sometimes, I think adults can think that what a child is stressed about is not that important,” Jaffe says. “But it can be a really big deal for their child. Not diminishing what feels like a big issue for a kid is important.”

Jaffe says signs of stress may include sleep problems, eating changes, short tempers, depression and worrying about or fixating on something for a prolonged period of time.

4. Set goals and discuss expectations. “So many choices of early high school years – even middle school, but definitely early high school – affect what you can take in later years,” Jaffe says. “What kind of college you can apply to, what your options are in a career program – some of these decisions start in ninth grade.”

In addition, people who set goals tend to be more focused, Rowe points out.

Jaffe says that because things change, parents’ information might not be the most current, and what colleges expect could change.

In addition, she says to find out what offerings are available at the high school and to talk to friends with older siblings, who can have insights into the process.

5. Pay extra attention as school begins. “Even though some students don’t always have much to say or pretend like they don’t have much to say, there’s a lot going on,” Rowe says. “Be available, willing to listen and patient. What’s going on may not always be communicated directly. For example, the frustration at school may come across as anger at home. That’s result of newness of everything.”

Jaffe says one of her kids used to be nervous at the beginning of every school year, and it took her a few years to realize it.

Jaffe says she asked her daughter how things were at school and reassured her that she thought everything was going well.

“It’s also a good time to help kids learn how to ask for help,” Jaffe says. “If you don’t know how to do something, go into the office. Ask the teacher if you don’t know how the class works. It relieves their anxiety and gives them practice in helping themselves.”

6. Arrive early on the first day/check out the school before school begins. “If you don’t know exactly where you’re supposed to go and you don’t have time to make a few mistakes and get to the right place, it’s more stress,” Jaffe says.

It takes a few minutes for students to get settled at their desk, Jaffe says.

“If you’re always scrambling and not hearing the first part of class, you’re missing something and starting out feeling all harried,” Jaffe says.

Rowe recommends that parents visit the school with their teens before school begins if possible. This will allow them to become familiar with the campus and help them feel less uneasy about the transition.

7. Set up a carpool for your child with other teens. “If there’s one thing I would change about the habits of families in our area, it’d be to have more carpooling,” Jaffe says. “It’s so much safer in the school area to have fewer people dropping kids off. That would be huge in safety and saving energy. Having a little social interaction with other kids, having a more flex schedule for parents – there are so many good aspects of that.”

She says students should set up the carpool because they’ll enjoy the ride more if they are with their friends. However, carpooling with kids whose schedules match up with your kid’s is also important, she noted.

8. Feed them well. In addition to breakfast being an important meal, an unhurried morning doesn’t put additional pressure on teens.

“The stress of everyone running around and feeling like they’re already late starts the day off in a really bad way,” Jaffe says.

9. Chat as you taxi the kids around. Jaffe says in-car conversations are the best conversations.

“Particularly coming home from places, you’re already going to be sitting there together,” she says. “You can get the fresh reaction to whatever just happened. Leave it open-ended and hear about what happened in your kid’s life. It’s a great sharing time.”

10. Be strategic on school supply needs. The most commonly purchased back-to-school supplies may sell out quickly, especially if there’s a sale, but it may not be necessary to buy everything before school starts.

“Sometimes, I think students buy a lot of things they think that they need and they get to class, and they find out they have to buy different things,” Jaffe says.

It may be helpful to encourage your teens to ask upperclassmen about school supplies. Sometimes, upperclassmen sell their used study materials, which are frequently the ones recommended by teachers, on sites like Facebook for cheaper.

©2012 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)
Distributed by MCT Information Services

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