The high school years can be a challenging and difficult experience for various reasons.
- Our kids are surrounded by hundreds or even thousands of diverse students and trying to figure out where they fit in while simultaneously navigating peer pressure and other social dynamics.
- They face an onslaught of harmful messages from social media, news outlets, and other sources.
- Teens are stressed because they are under persistent pressure to perform at the highest of standards in their academics and all their extra-curricular activities. A competitive college admissions landscape makes this worse. They feel like there is fierce competition at every juncture, and the demands force them to go above and beyond what they might not be capable of doing
- Adolescents are hyperaware of the world around them, and worry about issues such as gun violence, environmental issues, political tension, etc.
During this critical time, they are also undergoing enormous growth physically, mentally, and emotionally because of puberty and their brain development. This process can be exhausting, confusing, overwhelming, and hard.
High school seems to equate to overwhelming stress for today’s teens.
75% of high schoolers and 50% of middle schoolers described themselves as “often or always feeling stressed” by schoolwork. (The Washington Post, 2019). A 2021 survey from NBC News and the nonprofit Challenge Success found that 56% of teens said their stress about school has increased compared to before the pandemic.
Our poor kids are suffering. We’re raising a generation of teens who are stressed, anxious, depressed, and burnt out from it all.
Most families are merely trying to survive the high school years.
How can parents help teens get through the high school years?
But despite these negative risks, dangerous pitfalls, and painful growth, high school can offer many positive experiences if we can guide our kids through it.
Parents can play a significant role by giving their teens a lot of guidance and support in order to make the best of these years.
Our high schoolers need stability and discipline with an unconditional assurance that their parents believe in them no matter what happens.
Each child has their own strengths, weaknesses, and circumstances that influence their personal growth and experience. Every parent will need to adjust to their kid’s changing needs as they go through the process of maturing while helping them grow up through these pivotal years.
There’s no easy “fix” to raising our kids successfully in the crazy and confusing culture we live in today.
But our kids can develop many important life skills during high school that they will need in their future while discovering their interests, strengths, and potential. They can find true and trusted friends as they learn how to build healthy relationships. They can enjoy many benefits of extra-curricular activities that offer fulfilling opportunities outside of academics. They can take a variety of classes to explore academic interests that may give them direction for post-graduation. They can learn skills that point them to a satisfying career.
And as our high schoolers manage it all, they are slowly learning who they are and how to best take care of themselves.
Four simple ways parents can help teens during high school
Most high school students will need help from their parents and caregivers in the following four main areas to ensure they can have a more positive and productive experience.
How to find connection
It is human nature for us all to feel the need to belong because we are social creatures who need relational connection.
During the high school years, our teens often depend on others for their self-worth because they have yet to feel completely secure in who they are. This is why it is critical for them to feel seen and validated and also be part of something that gives them direction and purpose.
They’re still learning about who they are and what they like to do along with what strengths they might have for potential pursuits.
Trying out for a sport, participating in the arts or joining any of the countless clubs or programs that high school offers can be scary and uncomfortable for them.
It’s hard for teens to try new things with people they don’t know at this age. If they don’t push through that fear and take those first steps in participating in something other than academics, they can end up feeling isolated, lonely, excluded and insignificant.
Participating in extracurricular activities can help your high schooler find a place where they feel they belong while developing friendships with those who have the same interests. It also gives them an opportunity to build new skills and work on self-discipline and responsibility.
Parents should encourage (and at times insist) your high schooler get involved in a sport, club, program, or activity no matter how uncomfortable it is for them. If school is an uncomfortable environment for them, consider a part-time job, youth group, or volunteer opportuntiy.
Let them lead the process, but be there to guide them in taking those first steps, and remind them that these challenging experiences will help them build inner-strength and courage and self-confidence as well as discover more about who they are and where they fit in–or where they don’t. Sometimes your passionate athlete turns into a video game coder, or your theater buff may want to instead work a part-time job. Remember, it’s their journey, and as long as they are making connections, it’s a good thing.
Encourage your teen to pursue something they like to do or are passionate about. Motivate them to be brave enough to try new activities they have never tried before and explore all the different options the school has to offer. And celebrate the effort, not the achievement.
This is a great time in their life to take advantage of learning new skills while discovering more about themselves in the process. Getting involved in any activity will add more structure and productivity to their high school experience which can be really good for them.
How to manage the stress and pressure of academics.
In this day and age, the expectations in academic standards are so high for our students that oftentimes it leaves them feeling overwhelmed and discouraged.
As a parent, you play a major role in how your kid manages the decisions in what classes to take, managing their activities, and their grades. Help them take a holistic view at their schedule and determine what they can handle.
As a parent, it can be challenging to not succumb to all the pressure too, particularly as it feels like every teen today is an honor roll student, Olympic athlete, and attending Harvard. Parents can unintentionally become overly invested in our kid’s successes, so it’s important to know your individual child.
Some kids might want to excel in their studies and set big goals that might be stressful and difficult to manage. Oftentimes, students will compare their test scores and grades to others and feel incompetent. Some kids might work so hard in a class only to end up with a lower-than-expected grade and feel like a failure. Then some kids have no desire to work hard in any of their classes, and they slack on their homework and hardly pass.
Parents can alleviate the pressure their teens may feel by reminding them that there is much more to their lives than a test score or GPA. Encourage your student to take classes at the level they can handle and help them find ways to get assistance if necessary.
If need be, have your teen write out their entire planned schedule, including how many hours per day or per week they anticipate they will spend on each class and activity. Sometimes seeing it on paper can help them make more informed decisions.
High school academics offers opportunities to develop life skills that are important to focus on more than anything else. The goal is to help your student develop good study habits, time-management, accountability, and a strong work ethic, all of which will benefit their future regardless of what they do as adults.
If your student struggles academically, it is an opportunity to show them how to advocate for their needs and ask for help.
How to manage their physical and mental health
Nothing is more important than our kids’ physical and mental well-being.
Unfortunately, our teens are often under intense physical, mental, and emotional stress during their high school years.
They are going through puberty which results in rapid physical changes that they are trying to understand, and they are experiencing powerful hormonal fluctuations that can fuel emotions they don’t know how to express. Their brains are not fully developed, so their cognitive functioning limits their ability to think rationally and control their impulsive behavior. They aren’t completely capable of making responsible decisions in many difficult situations, which can lead to negative consequences.
They are still maturing and need to learn how to care for their physical and mental health. Some might struggle with physical exhaustion from not pacing their days with the rest they need. Some might stay isolated and sleep too much, trying to avoid the stress of dealing with issues or conflicts in their lives. The majority of high school students are struggling with mental health issues and physical exhaustion, and they need us to teach them the importance of self-care.
The high school years are the best time for parents to teach kids how to develop effective self-care habits necessary to maintain their health and well-being.
Encourage your kids to pay close attention to their mental, emotional, and physical needs and help them explore different ways to take care of themselves in each area.
Parents need to guide them in identifying what steps they need to take to get enough sleep, manage their schedule, eat healthily, and find creative and physical outlets they enjoy. Help your high schooler find balance in their life with school, work, extra-curriculars, rest, and fun. Learning how to structure their days with ample room for all these things is an important self-care habit they need to put into practice.
Most importantly, however, is we need to walk the walk. Our teens are watching us and how we deal with stress and other issues. If they see us taking care of ourselves, they are more likely to care for themselves.
We are living in the age of a mental health crisis, and it’s our teens who are suffering the most.
Pay close attention to your high schooler during these critical years when their mental health is most vulnerable. Tune into their behaviors and create a culture of open communication where they feel comfortable approaching you with their problems.
Parents need to help their kids discern what is good for them and what is damaging. Sometimes that means ending unhealthy relationships, limiting academic work, restricting social media use, and finding alternative options in less competitive extra-curricular activities.
Other times, it might mean engaging in more outside activities that are productive and good for them, trying something new that might help with their self-motivation, and making new friends. Guide them in making these hard decisions until they have the wisdom, maturity, confidence, and courage to decide what’s best for them. Ultimately, we want our kids to be healthy and well and learn the very best ways to take care of themselves.
How to manage technology
Technology is already a massive part of your teen’s life, and teaching teens to use technology appropriately is a parent’s responsibility.
Chances are, your high schooler doesn’t need lessons in how their phone or tablet operates, but they do need boundaries and safety instruction. You’d never hand the keys of a Ferrari to an unlicensed teen driver, but there’s just as much danger in handing over unlimited access to technology.
According to Pew Research, nearly half of teens feel addicted to their cell phones. Teenage cell phone use statistics show that around 45% of teenagers constantly check their phones and confess feelings of addiction to their electronic devices. This makes it an ongoing struggle for teens and their parents.
What’s more disturbing is while 52% of teens want to cut back on their phone usage, almost the same amount (56%) equates the absence of their smartphones with negative emotions.
There is nothing new to report here. We all know that excessive screen time, gaming, social media, and scrolling can lead to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and other disorders.
We also know that having the world wide web at the fingertips of teens and tweens whose minds and bodies are developing rapidly is a dangerous combination. Bullying, sexting, and predator grooming are just a few ways they can get into trouble online.
But who wants to argue with their high schooler every second of every day?
The end goal shouldn’t be to monitor your high schooler every second. Instead, we need to teach them how to use their phone more constructively. Simple ways to help them better manage their screentime include:
- Everyone in the family sharing their screentime report to recognize how much time they are actually spending on their devices.
- Keeping phones out of bedrooms at night.
- Turning off notifications.
- Adhere to family technology boundaries, such as no phones at mealtimes or screen-free Sundays (at least for a few hours.)
- Talk about healthier coping mechanisms when feeling tired or stressed that replace scrolling, such as taking a walk, exercising, etc.
High school doesn’t have to be the worst
High school can be tough for many teens, but it doesn’t have to be the worst.
By helping your teen with the four points above, you can ease their burdens, reduce their stress, and turn surviving into thriving.
Are you in the thick of raising your tweens and teens? You may like this book by Whitney Fleming, the co-owner of Parenting Teens & Tweens: Loving Hard When They’re Hard to Love: Essays about Raising Teens in Today’s Complex, Chaotic World.
Parenting teens and tweens is hard, but you don’t have to do it alone. Here are some other posts parents found useful.
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