Updated: Feb 4, 2019
Freshman year! You and your child made it through middle school and are ready to move on to the bigger and bolder world of high school. Nervous? Excited? Both? A new school, new academic challenges, and new social expectations bring with them new opportunities. For teens, the part of the brain that is responsible for decision-making (the frontal lobe) is still developing and will continue to do so until around age 25. What does this mean for you? Teen decision-making can often be dominated by ‘gut instincts’ and impulsive behavior rather than thoughtful and critical reasoning. Thus, change can have emotions running high and self-monitoring running low. You are not alone and neither is your child. While everyone certainly has his/her own unique experience, we’ve found that there are some common challenges that Freshman face during this time of transition. Read on for ways to help make freshman year a great one for you and your child:
1. Set up a balanced system of support and self-discipline.
Navigating harder classes and hefty homework loads is a challenge for most freshmen. They may be used to more step-by-step guidance in middle school and sometimes the independence paired with the sheer volume of work in high school can be cause for a system overload. You can help your child by giving them the tools to greater self-reliance. Talk to your student about this year and ask how you can best support them. Be collaborative in coming up with a strategy for the year. If your student is unsure, revisit the idea in a week or two once they’ve had a chance to think about it further. Perhaps a fun planner to start off the year coupled with weekly check-ins? Or would they prefer something less formal where you touch base at breakfast or dinner or a car ride to school to see how things are going overall? Ensure you find a way to check in about how things are going in a way that works best for both you and your student. The key is to strike a happy medium of giving independence and offering help: this is a big theme Freshman year!
2. Begin thinking about the big picture.
Freshman year is important, and for most schools, will be equally weighted in GPA calculations for college admission. Where necessary, have gentle conversations with your child about the importance of trying hard and treating classes and grades seriously. Find out their thoughts on what they need to help them succeed and where their concerns are. Urge students to explore their interests to learn what they do or don’t like through extra-curriculars offered in or outside of school. Reassure anxious students that finding their own path and driving toward their own goals is critical, and highlight that there are many paths to success and happiness. Begin talking with your student about college, encourage them to discuss it with their school counselor when planning their schedule, and consider scheduling a personalized Freshman college counseling session where you’ll dig into the how, what’s and why’s of the college admissions process.
3. Course plan.
You want to ensure your child has a productive freshman year that sets them up for success throughout the rest of high school. Your child is likely going to be feeling a whirlwind of different emotions during this milestone academic year. During course load planning, your child (with your support and guidance) should consult with the school counselor to create a schedule that is challenging but not soul-crushing. Avoiding academic overwhelm during the first year of high school can end up benefitting your child as they’ll be less likely to crash and burn under the pressure and can develop good study habits early on that will pay dividends as the workload increases down the line.
4. Set boundaries around grade checking (for you).
While we have the ability to check grades 24/7, with (some) teachers putting in daily assignments, resist the temptation to check daily with your child. You’ll want to regularly ask your student how things are going and how they are feeling in each class as well as be aware of their upcoming tests and assignments. However, as far as directly checking grades with them, be mindful that that can put undue pressure on your student. Set a reasonable number of times per month to check grades with your child to keep abreast of their progress while not putting day-to-day pressure on grades; this will relieve the stress caused by the natural ebbs and flows of classwork while ensuring the impact of small assignments doesn’t become overinflated. This is a great opportunity to start teaching your child independence and direct communication while finding a balance to still be involved so that things don’t get too far off course if it is necessary to intervene.
5. Call for back up!
Make sure you have a good support system in place. Use your resources. From family and friends to the school’s counselors, ensure that you and your student have people to talk things out with and to go to with questions. If your student would benefit from additional guidance in any subjects, consider your tutoring options. From online to in person options, tutoring can be a way to further encourage and help students succeed in the classroom – particularly when they are more responsive to someone giving academic guidance who isn’t their parent!
Freshman year is a time for a fresh start and new opportunities to explore. While it may feel overwhelming at times, take the steps to engage your student in shaping their high school experience to help prepare them for college and beyond. And if you need it, we’re here to offer academic support through personalized, one-on-one tutoring, and other academic services. Here’s to a great Freshman year!