Six Things I Want My Child to Understand About Being in High School

I wasn’t popular in high school. In fact, I felt mostly invisible — which has its pros and cons. I wasn’t athletic, I didn’t have a well-known family, and I didn’t party. While some of my idolized peers shopped at Express and had their names prominently displayed on their sports jerseys, I found some solace in drama club and journalism class. I couldn’t wait to spread my wings and fly into college, because high school was anxiety-provoking and depressing.

I can hardly believe that now I have a child going into high school. I’m experiencing a mix of excitement and dread. Will she be safe, happy, and engaged? Will she find her people — good friends who make good choices? How will she handle adversity, the inevitable pressures that come with growing up? I know my experience won’t be hers — thankfully — but I still can’t help but worry.

There’s absolutely no question why so many television shows and movies focus on high school, angsty teens, and loads of drama. High school is a pivotal time in a person’s life, whether that experience is good, bad, or (most likely) a mix of both. As my daughter edges toward her first day of high school, here’s what I want her to know.

It’s Okay To Be Who You Are

I don’t remember many of the popular kids from high school, mostly because they only hung out with other popular kids. Rather, I remember those who were individualistic — those who paved their own way and bravely were themselves. I don’t want my daughter to expend time and energy trying to gain the approval of her peers and “fit in,” because this always comes at a cost. Instead, I want her to be who she is, openly and proudly. She’s artistic, inclusive, interested in history, and hopeful to try new things, like the dance team. I also want her to know that these interests and her personality may be the very things that lead her to a college major or future job!

This is a Season of Growth

Growth can be deeply painful, because learning lessons — and I’m not just talking about academic — is often unpleasant. High schoolers are going to make loads of mistakes, which is exactly what will spur growth in them. I don’t expect my child’s high school years to be drama-free (not even close), but I want her to know that some “drama” is normal and even healthy. If she doesn’t make mistakes or face failures, she won’t make gains. This means imperfect grades, working on projects with people she doesn’t like, and making the wrong decisions.

Carefully Select Your Friends

A person’s circle of friends not only says a lot about the person, but it also influences them. It’s good to be friend-picky. A person can be friendly with everyone, as long as they are safe people, but that doesn’t mean everyone who is nice to a person is worthy of being their friend. Also, I don’t want my daughter to limit herself to friends who are similar to her. My own circle of friends, now as an adult, includes people of different ages, races, religions, and income levels. I love learning from them, especially when their perspectives and experiences are far different than mine. Friendships are opportunities for growth.

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Prioritize Your Mental Health

Anxiety and depression are rampant among kids today. Though not all mental health disorders are preventable, prioritizing one’s mental health is critically important. If a high schooler’s mental state is unwell, eventually they will crash and burn. I want to continue to show my child that therapy is always a healthy option. Staying off social media, or greatly limiting it, and instead focusing on real-life activities like friendships and extracurriculars, can be beneficial. When she’s struggling, she has to speak up to a trusted adult, and then be courageous in seeking help.

Physical Health Matters, Too

Much like with mental health, if a high schooler’s physical health is suffering, they’re going to struggle. We have raised our kids to know that quality and enough sleep, unstructured time for relaxing, exercise, and a balanced diet all contribute to their overall health. Plus, exercise has mental health benefits, too. Though it won’t be easy to get herself to bed at a decent hour or pack a healthy lunch, these choices can add up and have a positive impact on her high school experience.

It’s Fine Not to Date

I have a cousin who chose not to date in high school or college, instead focusing on her education and traveling. She waited until after her college graduation to date, and now she’s married (and still adding to her education and travel schedule). I share this with my kids to say that if they don’t want to date, that’s fine. If they want to date, that’s perfectly normal and OK; however, finding their “perfect match” should never be their top priority, especially when they’re in high school. Sure, dating can be fun, but it also comes with its fair share of heartache and distraction. We also reemphasize things like boundaries and consent — because high schoolers certainly like to act grown without being grown.

Mainly, I want my high schooler, as well as her three younger siblings who will eventually be high schoolers, to have an amazing experience. I hope that the next four years is full of opportunities and growth for my daughter. Even though I cannot control her high school experience, I will remain diligent in offering support, guidance, and love through it all.

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