New High-Schooler? Don't Panic. It's All Good.

by Melissa L. Fenton
James Pauls / iStock

Sex, drugs, rock ’n’ roll, cyberbullies, Snapchat, sexting. Instagram-selfie overload, mean girls — and that’s all just before first period, right? This is not your mom’s high school, like, not even close. But listen, that’s actually a good thing. Modern high school is vibrant, diverse, innovative, and anything but dull.

Sure, there are still boring lectures, sleepy 16-year-olds dreaming of anything but iambic pentameter, AP everything, and an absurd amount of college preparatory pressure, but if you’re just beginning to enter the often tumultuous yet thrilling high school years with your teens, don’t panic. Rest assured, with plenty of patience and a great sense of humor, you and your new high-schooler are going to successfully get through these next four years unscathed. (Well, your kids will. You, on the other hand, will age about a decade.)

A few things to keep in mind these next four years:

1. Your freshman will not be your senior.

Your kid on day one of his freshman year of high school will be extremely different from your kid on day one of his senior year. The difference between a high school freshman and a high school senior is about as striking as the changes that take place between the newborn phase and preschool. Don’t be discouraged by the incomprehensible immaturity displayed by your freshman, because in four short years that awkward kid will blossom into an (almost) self-sufficient young adult.

2. The days are very, VERY long, but in a good way.

High school days start right after dawn and end long after elementary school bedtimes, due to after-school athletics, activities, and late night study sessions. Not seeing your kid for 12 straight hours is a tough adjustment at first, but is necessary to forge the beginning of their independence from you.

3. There are great kids there.

Teens are forever getting a bad rap as lazy, disrespectful, selfie-obsessed, and entitled, but if you ever get a chance to volunteer in your kid’s high school, do it, because you won’t believe what you will see. These kids are bright and bursting with positivity, empathy, and are more socially aware than any generation before them. And although the work/study/fun balancing act they will be juggling the next four years will be overwhelming, it’s a great thing to watch them step up to the plate and knock it out of the park.

4. Your kid will find their people.

It may take some time, some serious vetting, and plenty of tears but your high-schooler will find their people. Over the next four years, friends will be lost and gained, treasured and tossed, but in the end, these years and the lessons in friendship that will be learned (even painfully) will be worth it.

5. You may not recognize your kid as a high school student.

Your “straight A, never-in-trouble” teen is going to bomb a big test, fail a midterm, get detention, and completely forget how to be a student, because basically, hormones and brain development (or lack thereof). Relax. It’s called learning how to bounce back from defeat, and the early years of high school are the best place to learn this. Do it now instead of as an upperclassman.

6. High school teachers ROCK.

Teachers who choose the high school years as their classroom of choice are well aware and know the importance and pressure of these years. They’re some of the most dedicated and driven teachers I’ve ever met. They pull 12- to 16-hour days, teaching all day and then coaching athletics and running after school clubs and organizations. They turn fledgling green freshman into college-ready seasoned specimens, and above all, they care. These are the toughest of years, and the adults who spend their days sculpting children into maturity are a true gift to education.

When I dropped off my oldest at high school for the first time four years ago, someone said to me, “High school is a blur. Buckle up.” They were right. I dropped off a scatterbrained child, and I picked up a polished young man four years later. Fasten your seat belts mamas — and don’t worry, your high school graduate will make you prouder than you ever thought possible.