Helping Your Child Transition to High School


By Valorie Dassel, LCSW, LCAC

The transition from elementary or middle school to high school can come with a wave of emotions for both students and parents. Often there is excitement surrounding the new environment, both socially and academically. Anxiety is also commonly experienced among incoming freshmen.

These anxieties often stem from social and academic changes. Opportunities for change can increase a sense of self and positively affect academics. As parents, it is important to nurture our teenager’s development during this transition.

Parents should talk with their teen about academic expectations before high school begins. Discuss ways to practice useful organizational strategies, develop time management skills, and maintain good study habits. If elementary or middle school has been easy for a teen, they may begin high school with a relaxed attitude toward grades. If high school proves to be academically challenging for them, the teen may have a more difficult transition.

Priorities for a teenager can be difficult to navigate. Students may want to do well academically, but new social opportunities can interfere with academic success. During this developmental stage, friends become just as important to the teen as their family.

When teens are faced with the choice of doing their homework or hanging out with friends, they may opt for the more immediate and “fun” reward of socializing. Parents can lend support by encouraging set study times and monitoring assignments being turned in on time through the school’s website.

High school includes social adjustments as well. Typically, incoming freshman are coming from a middle school where they knew exactly where they fit in amidst the study body. The transition to high school offers exciting opportunities for most. For the student who has desired different or more friendships in elementary or middle school, they have a chance to reinvent and develop better relationships.

Throughout freshman year, social groups tend to go through many transitions. With a larger student body, there is greater opportunity to find friends who share similar interests and values. Parents should encourage involvement in activities to promote social connectedness. Spending time constructively makes it less likely the teen will be involved in negative social behaviors.

If the social adjustment is not what your teen expected, they could be struggling with feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and depression. Open communication during this time is crucial. Help your teen brainstorm which peers they have something in common with. Work with them on how to initiate conversations and suggest non-intimidating ways to “hang out” outside of school to nurture friendships. This will give them the skills necessary to work through their social difficulties.

The transition to high school offers many exciting opportunities. There are also going to be difficulties on this journey. Maintaining an open and positive relationship and communication between parent and teen will make it easier on the entire family.