Starting high school

Helping your teenager adjust

Starting high school can be a very exciting time for an adolescent. It can also be very confusing and quite scary for some teens.

There are many changes from primary (elementary) school. Many teenagers “go backwards” for a while as they learn to adjust to the new changes. Here are some of the new changes or challenges a new high school student faces.

Body image changes

Your teen is going to be in a school with older, more physically developed students who are virtually adults. This may be stressful for a new student entering high school, especially compared to the previous year, when he or she was the oldest in the school. Don’t forget that your teen, too, is about to enter or already has begun puberty.

School system changes

When they start high school, it is usually a much bigger place with many more students and they are at the bottom, rather than the top of the school hierarchy.

Unlike primary school, high school students usually have different teachers and classrooms for every subject and this can be very confusing. As well, many high schools use a four- or six-day cycle, which is something new for the first-year high schoolers.

Increased class size, less individual attention and more competition may overwhelm your teen at first. Also, now is the time when new students have to begin learning independence in order to succeed in college or in the workforce.

Social changes

Their friends may be going to different schools or in different classes, so they may need to make new friends. The new high school student may worry about finding new friends and peer groups. The large size of your teen’s new high school could be overwhelming and even intimidating.

What stresses the new high school student?

For a teenager just starting high school, all of the above changes can make him/her very anxious. It is not uncommon for a new high school student to feel:

• lost and confused

• missing old school and old friends

• lonely and unhappy (until new friends are made)

• worried that he/she will not be able to cope with the new demands

• worried that he/she will not “fit in”

• worried that he/she will not live up to parental expectations

How can parents help?

Parents, of course, are stressed too, especially in this day and age, where students have a lot of homework and when school can be such a source of stress.

However, parents can help ease their teen’s transition pains (and their own) by being open and understanding. Often, sharing parental experiences will help.

Here are some other tips parents can use to help their teenager adjust to the new high school setting:

Reassure your teenager that it is normal to feel confused and unsure at first and that most others will be feeling the same way.

Give your teenager as much control as you can (within sensible limits) over their wardrobe, so they feel that they “fit in.”

Reassure your teen that he/she already knows how to make friends because of the friendships he/she has made in the past.

Help your teenager keep in touch with old friends and be welcoming to new friends. Make it easy for your teen to entertain at home. Make your home the place teens want to be. Be available to discreetly supervise and encourage your teen to have friends over for dinner or to study, and meet their parents.

Help your teenager set up a homework routine that helps him/her to manage homework and still have time for relaxation and friends.

Be a good and supportive listener but try not to give advice too quickly. Problems that young people can solve for themselves help to build confidence.

Encourage your child to join school activities, a great way to make new friends.

Be patient with your “more than usual” irritable teenager for the first few weeks.

Get involved in the PTA or other parent organizations and go to school functions.

And do not forget that despite their age, teenagers still need parental affection, love and support.

Signs of stress

Your teenager may show his/her stress in the following ways:

• being irritable and short-tempered

• being disagreeable or not wanting to talk

• changing behaviour such as silliness or rebelling

• stomach pains, headaches and/or not wanting to go to school

If these symptoms persist beyond the first few weeks of school, parents should contact the school and try to address the source of stress to their teenager.

The bottom line though, is most students adapt very well and learn to appreciate the newfound independence high school has to offer.


Pediatrician and health communications pioneer Dr. Paul Roumeliotis has produced of hundreds of articles, booklets and videos on a variety of child health issues. His highly acclaimed, groundbreaking book for parents focusing on the importance of the first 18 months of life, Baby Come Home, was released early in 2015 and is an Amazon bestseller. Visit and follow Dr. Paul on Twitter:@thedrpaul