Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Entering High School? How to Keep the Stress under Control

Amanda was excited to start high school.  She bought her materials in advance and tried to keep up with her homework load and daily cross country practice.  All went well the first week, but then she gradually began to fall behind.  Teachers' handouts were not making it to the correct binders, she forgot to write down her homework, and she was completely baffled with what she was learning in chemistry.  There were too many math problems to finish without getting to bed after midnight.  She became anxious and started avoiding assignments that she didn't understand.  By mid October, she had a C in math and a D in chemistry.  Her best laid plans were falling apart.

In my experience as a parent and tutor, high school is much more demanding than it was when I was a teenager, especially for students enrolled in honors and AP courses.  Students in the Washington metro area are getting a fabulous education, which includes public speaking, abstract thinking and analysis, and thought provoking seminars.  However, they are paying for it with decreased sleep and leisure time, and increased anxiety and stress.  Much of this stress can be prevented with efficient organizational strategies.

It is now the first week of school.   Some students already start to fall behind because they are overwhelmed with handouts.  It is important for students to work out organizational systems that are personalized and work for them.  If they don't think they will hole punch all the papers, perhaps binders will not work as well as folders. An accordion folder may be a convenient way to hold papers for multiple classes.  For block scheduling, it may be useful to have shared binders or notebooks on each day.  For most students, it is helpful to label every folder and binder with the name of the subject.  Color coding by subjects is another advantage.  It is imperative for each student to find an organizational system that will work.  And if it doesn't work, it is fine to try something else.  Many students will need help to set up a system, and any time spent on this is bound to pay off.

The first week of class, it is extremely important to pay attention to teachers' expectations.  How often will there be quizzes or tests, and how best to study for them?  Is homework required or suggested?  Are there long term projects to mark on the calendar?  Which type of planner will work best, a book, a giant calendar, or an online calendar?  Parents, make every effort to attend "Back to School" night, and pay attention to what teachers expect from students.  Then you can compare notes with your children.

Be sure to monitor homework right away.  Is your child able to complete it easily?  Are there too many math problems?  Is your child not understanding something?  You should encourage your child to get help from the teacher if needed.  Most teachers stay after school to help students.  Encourage your student to let you know if there are any problems so you can deal with them together before they grow out of hand.

I know from experience that when you let a teacher know that homework is taking too long, many teachers will modify homework as needed, especially for math.  Many students can learn as much from completing 15 problems as 30, and will benefit from more down time. Nearly all students need help at some point in their high school careers.  Be sure to communicate to your children that they should let you know if they need help early on, and you will work together to find solutions.
As a parent, the best way to contact teachers is usually by email.  Do not hesitate to convey your concerns to the teachers.

Parents can be support systems for their teens while simultaneously helping them to become more independent.  Assuming your teen is planning to attend a college away from home, by 12th grade your teen needs to be mostly self-sufficient.  By the beginning of 10th grade, I advise most parents to start to back off and encourage their teens to contact teachers themselves, either in person or by email.  Your teen should be transitioning into controlling his or her own organizational systems, planning, and taking the lead in getting help as needed. Students should also be setting their own alarms, two or three if needed, and getting themselves up for school, jobs, and events.

Even as your teen becomes more independent, he or she may still need support.  As you help your teens come up with support systems, keep in mind that there are many options for help with school subjects and with "academic coaching," which generally includes support with organization, planning, time management, developing efficient study skills, and motivation.  These supports include parents, teachers, peers, tutors, and academic coaches.  One of the cornerstones of independence is knowing when and where to get help if needed.

Most importantly, continue to monitor your teens for good eating and sleeping habits, mental health, and management of school and other commitments.  Try to spend quality time together and keep the lines of communication open by being a listener and supporter, not a judge.  Sometimes it seems like your teen is far from independence at the beginning of high school, but you will be amazed with what they can accomplish with maturity, support, and confidence in their ability to be self sufficient.


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