“Middle school goes quickly, but high school is even faster. I’m telling you — it’s a blur!” my friend Lori told me. She’s the mom to three girls, who were in high school and beyond at that time, while my three were still in elementary school.
She was encouraging me about the tedium of my mothering.
I pass these words of wisdom to you. Here I am about three seconds later, and my youngest is entering her junior year of high school. While middle school was full of social pitfalls, big emotions, and the messiness of entering adolescence, I can safely say that the transition into high school was the beginning of a greater season.
My oldest and I wandered the endless and confusing halls of his monstrous high school, and I was overwhelmed. Ever wise beyond his years, he called me out.
“Mom, this is normal to me. This big high school is what I’ve expected.”
Oh, yes. I couldn’t compare my own 80s experiences in a tiny Texan town. My “back in my day” stories have become an epic inside family joke. The reality is our children have grown up in a very different world than we did. Our kids are pioneers in the digital age. They’re savvy about social justice and global issues, with real-time exposure to world events.
Parenting high schoolers requires us to shift our strategies from how we were parented. It’s going to look different from “back in my day.” Rather than expect my kids to fit into the paradigm of my experience, I need to be willing to adapt to their reality. They are a generation of kids experiencing increasing rates of depression and anxiety. These are kids with information overload, needing empathy and a safe haven.
Focus On Connection
Experts agree that strong family bonds are a leading deterrent to teenage issues. Family dinners, vacations, and traditions are important to building connection with our high schoolers. While middle school brought friendship angst, development during high school allowed my children to start navigating friendships more easily.
The window was opening to being heard again above the voice of peers. Be intentional to do things that they enjoy, even if you don’t. Consider the relationship you want with your child when he or she is an adult. Start building toward that. Have honest dialogue about issues, seeking to understand first before giving consequences. When your child make mistakes (and he or she will), ask what he or she would do different next time. You can be a strong parent enforcing family rules while also choosing battles. Be mindful of seeking connection even as you punish and discipline. Avoid alienation.
Seek to Understand
“How can I show respect to these coaches when they belittle my friends so disrespectfully?”
Um, yes. Good question, son.
We want our kids to show respect, and like other relationships, this involves showing respect as well. I don’t mean letting your teens run the show; I mean dialoguing with your teens to show interest in their lives. Don’t bash and dishonor teenagers. They aren’t a problem a solve, but people we seek to understand. Hear their honest opinions and thoughts and share your own. Listen and be available. Set clear expectations with defined consequences, and hold to those.
Begin Phasing Out
One of the best parts of the high school years is moving from being the referee throwing penalty flags to the sidelines as a coach. This is also one of the hardest parts. Nothing magical happens on an eighteenth birthday. High school is the training ground. It’s time to start increasing independence, handing over life skills like doing laundry. If we want our kids to go his or her own for college, jobs, and adulthood, then we have to work toward that goal. Let independence become a mutual goal. Encourage your teen to get jobs at sixteen, earn his or her own money, and practice responsibility.
Let Them Fail
Kids can do hard things. The best lessons in life are the ones taught through failure. Working toward releasing kids into adulthood requires that chances to fly or fail under our own roof. Coach them to advocate for themselves at school or work, and step in only as needed. Let the consequences come, while creating game plans and contracts with them toward change. Don’t plow down obstacles; it denies kids of invaluable lessons.
My three kids could not be more different from each other. My high school mantra to them was this, “I’ve already been a teenager and chose my paths. Now, it’s your turn.”
Remind yourself that you are very different than your high school self. It’s just getting good, moms, so press in for the season bridging adolescence to independence. Extra grace may be required, but it’s worth it.