As we sadly say goodbye to the last long weekend of the summer, three words inevitably march into the minds of most Canadian families: back-to-school. The entire experience of going back to class can be a real mixed bag of emotions for both students and parents. On one hand it can mark an end to family vacations but on the other it means a return to comfortable familiar routines. This transition is made even tougher however when that return to school involves your teenager starting high school.

As most parents will attest (at least my parents will) surviving having a teenager is the ultimate test in the parenting world. Suddenly your sweet little boy or girl isn’t so little and has started eating you out of house and home and sleeping like a bear in hibernation. They are also truly coming into their own, their already constantly evolving personalities are starting to solidify and they have distinct hobbies, interests and opinions (many of which they are all too eager to share). Add to this the shock of starting a new school with new faces and a new way of doing things, and you have a recipe for challenging times.

Here are a few friendly tips that might help you turn this potentially tumultuous period in you and your teen’s life into the exciting and fun experience it ought to be:

Know Their School

The best way for your teen to succeed academically in high school is for you to be engaged and supportive. Pay attention to those early newsletters during the first few weeks of your teen’s school year. If you see an open house or parent-teacher night coming up, take advantage of the opportunity. Get to know what expectations there will be for your teen as they enter this new phase of schooling as well as any policies or school-wide programs that may be relevant to you.

Also take a look online for their school’s website. This can be a great resource for information that otherwise may not make it home such as calendars for the school year featuring dates for activities, exams, clubs and teams.  

Small Fish in a Big Pond

Try to be understanding and supportive as your teen moves into their new environment. In many parts of Canada it is not unusual to go from a school of 500 students to a high school boasting a student body of 1,500 or more. This sudden leap can be disorienting for many new high school students so your teen should be prepared to get more than a little turned around during their first month. Be sure to remind them that this time will pass. For those with children entering high school in the next few years, many schools offer future students a visitor’s day to come through and tour their soon-to-be school to help lessen the shock.

Changing Friendships

With so many new faces and so many new opportunities to express and explore their interests, your teen and their friend since kindergarten may start to drift apart. This is okay! Making new friends is all a part of the high school experience and who knows, some of these friends may be the ones they stay in touch with for the rest of their lives. Don’t be too quick to judge if your son’s new friend has technicolour hair or more piercings than ear. High school is a time where teens are trying to find their identities and trying on many different hats is all a part of that. As a parent it is important that you meet these new friends as they will quickly become some of the most influential people in your teenager’s life.

High School Homework

Easily the single greatest change that students will notice once high school starts is an increase in workload. Not only will high school involve more homework but the depth of the assignments changes too as promoting critical thinking becomes the focus. This change in expectations from teachers may be a struggle for some kids so be aware of what homework is coming home with them and support them as they adjust their work behaviour.

Here are some other helpful tips to support your teen with their new homework:

  • Designate a specific area of your home for homework
    • Make sure it is well-lit and distraction-free (no phones, TV or non-homework websites)
  • Discuss your teen’s workload regularly and make sure it is balanced
    • For big assignments, make sure there is a plan in place to get it done that accounts for extra-curricular activities
  • Let them know it’s okay to ask for help
    • Many schools offer peer-to-peer to tutoring and some teachers may be available for extra help before and after school

Start the Day off Right

Two of the easiest steps you can take to set your teen up for success each day are making sure they get enough sleep and that they start the day off with a proper breakfast.

Whether it is because of too many after-school commitments or late night texting sessions with friends, most teens are not getting the nine hours of sleep a night that their bodies require. This shortfall can cause all sorts of issues during the day including difficulty concentrating, decreased short-term memory and depression. The single best solution for improving sleep performance is trying to stick to a sleep routine throughout the week.

In our busy day-to-day lives, eating a nutritious breakfast is easily one of the most overlooked steps in starting the day off right. Teens who skip breakfast regularly have been shown to have reduced performance at school through a lack attentiveness and general low energy throughout the day. Many dieticians recommend providing a complete breakfast for your teen that incorporates at least three main food groups so get creative! Even the busiest of families can usual muster the time for a bottle of orange juice and a cheese sandwich with whole grain bread to be eaten on the bus or in the car.

We often tell teens that the years spent in high school will be the best years of their lives. Let’s make sure high school lives up to the promise by staying involved, supportive and at all times setting them up for success.