Freshman Angst: Tips To Keep Your Teen on the “Right” Path

Freshman year is a big year and if your child is about to embark on high school life, you may be a bit panicked.

Understandable. 

Keep Moving Forward

This is the road of parenting. Remember the first day of daycare or preschool and the fears that went along with it?  That first day of kindergarten, did you have your hands cupped on the little door window, praying she would make a friend?

Or that first day of middle school,  did you ask yourself, “where did my baby go?”

And now, another first, the first day of high school. Freshman year. So many worries, questions and fears… of drugs, sex, bullying, homework, sports, etc. As a high school teacher, I can tell you that I know things and hear things that I wish I didn’t. Students are not as discreet as they think they are.

Preparing Your Freshman

So, as you take a deep breath in, here are a few tips to keep your “baby” safe, emotionally, physically and otherwise:

  1. The beauty in fresh starts: Some teens need a fresh start. No matter what happened the day before, every day is a great day to start again.
  2. Have hard conversations: Talk about sex, pornography and drugs. Teens are curious and these conversations are happening elsewhere. Try to be the safe place and the person your freshman needs. ‘What if’ scenarios can be helpful. This takes intentionality, but if you are reading this blog, I am confident you are already an intentional parent.
  3. Extra-curricular activities: Students with a healthy social life are usually involved in something. One way to approach it is the “mind and body rule”: one extra-curricular that uses the body (sport, rock climbing, hiking, skiing) and one that uses the mind (forensics, art, church group, choir, theatre).   
  4. School events: Encourage your freshman to participate in school events. These are usually  family friendly. Start with Friday night lights. Go see the school play. Don’t forget to teach your child to dance in the living room before the big homecoming dance. This is where memories are made.
  5. Push self-advocating skills: With school events and extra-curricular commitments, the homework load can become daunting. It is challenging for busy students to accomplish all that is required, but hear me now, your son or daughter IS CAPABLE. Research has shown that student athletes are more academically successful. I realize it is too much or not fair. I know how tempting it is to pick up the phone or send a nasty email. But let me repeat: Your child is capable, regardless of the time restraint. Your child is capable, even with a learning disorder or in addition to accommodations. It is okay to fail or to struggle. This is the safe zone. If your child is going to fall or fail and learn how to overcome, persevere and problem solve, it is better that he struggles with your loving guidance. Don’t solve all his problems. Teach your child to self-advocate and overcome. Now is the time for you to prepare her for the real world. We all face struggles and the only way we learn to overcome is by overcoming.
  6. Your child is not the victim: In my experience, it is exceedingly rare that a teacher would “hate” a student. If every year, your child struggles with her teachers, let’s face it: It may not be the teachers. I get that perception is reality, but if that perception is a “victim mentality,” you and your child may be walking a dangerous line. Teenagers need to learn how to handle themselves in various situations and with all types of people. There are times when you might need to step in, but solving every personality conflict or demanding that your child gets this or that may not be in your student’s best interest long-term. Sometimes, the energy you spend fighting the school might be put to better use by teaching your child to self-advocate and make things right—even when he is not wrong.  
  7. Seeking wise counsel: If you or teachers see a shift in your child or if you simply have a gut feeling, it is probably wise to seek wise counsel for your teen. Getting help and maneuvering through complex emotions combined with hormones, biology and the drama of teenage angst is never a bad idea.
  8. Show up: Go to parent-teacher conferences and back to school nights despite your child’s protests.

Make the Time

Believe it or not, you still matter and you are still a huge influence on your child and always will be.

Make time to spend time with your teen. Tell her you love her. Give him too many hugs. This is not the season to walk in offense. Love when you are rejected and love them when they fail. Love when you really, really don’t want to.

I hear stories after stories about the struggles between parents and teens. If only you saw how much your teen still needs you. I had a really cool and I mean really cool student and he told me that he didn’t speak to his dad. The thing he missed the most was playing basketball together. I assumed that his dad was no longer in the picture, but when this student cheated on an assignment, it was his dad that showed up. His dad cried when I told him what his son had said.

Communicate often.  You matter and your freshman will be okay because she has you, the parent who reads articles like this—who wants to do better. The best parents are not the ones that never fail but the ones that care.

A final thought… I teach high school, and yes students struggle, but they also thrive and renew my hope in humanity daily. I am humbled by the beauty in the souls in my classroom. 

Congratulations to getting your child this far! Only four more years. Make them count!   

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