Friday, September 21, 2012

Preparing Parents for the High School Years!

Rodrick's daughter, now a High School freshman

This fall semester, my daughter started high school. Let me say that again…MY DAUGHTER STARTED HIGH SCHOOL! I can’t believe it! It might sound cliché but it really does seem like yesterday that my little girl was in day care. Now she’s a high schooler! Unbelievable!

I must admit that I have mixed emotions about this entire experience. You see, to me, she’s my child – my baby. And she’ll always be. But guess what? When she leaves this school, it’s off to college and quite possibly, she will no longer live with us at home on a permanent basis. My wife and I marvel at the fact that our daughter is becoming an adult – right before our very eyes.

With all this said, I can only imagine the emotions that parents like us are feeling all across the world right now, as our little kids are growing up. We have a sense of pride, yet we know that as life takes its natural course, they grow up and begin to chart their own path in life. It’s bittersweet, no doubt.

Think about this for a moment. If your kids just started high school, like ours, over the next four years here’s what’s likely to happen. They will: 
  • Decide what area of work they would like to pursue as adults
  • Become increasingly into their friends and less into you
  • Learn to drive
  • Go on their first date
  • Be exposed to the temptations of sex, drugs and alcohol

With this post, I don’t have the pretense that I know it all and have the solutions to the issues that parents face. I’m just a husband and father learning as I go along. Yet, I believe that life has taught me some very important lessons that have equipped me to help guide our daughter through these critical years.

It wasn’t very long ago that I, too, was a high school freshman with my eyes set on what life had to offer. And somehow, I’ve made it this far. It hasn’t been smooth sailing by any means. Still, I believe that the challenges I’ve encountered will help me to effectively parent our child through the next 4 years.

Here are some tips that we can give to our kids. I believe they will help them to successfully get through high school and on to college or to face life’s other challenges. This list is by no means meant to be exhaustive. If there are additional areas you think should also be emphasized, feel free to leave a comment on this post. So here’s the list:

1. Set Goals. One of the most important and effective tools that one can develop in life is the art of goal-setting. I have heard it said that goals are a magnet to success; I totally agree with that. It’s never too early – or too late, for that matter – to learn this life-changing art. As your kids begin this phase, encourage them to set goals for their high school years. Here are some that they can start with:

  • Get on the honor roll and join the National Honor Society
  • Maintain a grade point average of a certain amount (4.0 would be ideal but if not that, it should be something that requires them to work diligently)
  • Make the varsity team during their freshman or sophomore year
  • Become class presidentGet a full scholarship to their dream university

These goals can help to motivate them and challenge them to stay on track. Encourage them to write them down. They should review this list often, especially when they are tired and exhausted and want to quit. Ask anyone who has learned to perfect the art of goal-setting – in their lives, in general, or in business. You’ll find that the impossible becomes very possible with the simple process of writing down the things that one desires and then pursuing them. This is indeed heavy duty stuff!

2. Manage Time. In many ways, high school serves as a preview of what the working world will be like. Unlike college, high school is very strict and rigid when it comes to time. For instance, when I was in college, I had no more than 3 classes each day, and I chose the times I wanted them. If I wanted afternoon classes, I chose them and just slept late. But in high school, kids have to get up early – sometimes, ridiculously early hours. Then they go to school and are in class all day. And if they’re involved in extra-curricular activities, they have to find time to do those activities, while keeping up with their studies. This mirrors what happens in the real world. It requires effective time management if one wants to succeed. If our kids can master this skill, then they’re well on their way.

3. Choose Friends Wisely. If you’re like many people, some of the closest friends and strongest influences that you have are with those who you meet in high school. The old saying goes, “Birds of a feather flock together.” Smart kids somehow seem to attract other smart kids. And those who goof off and waste time seem to attract like-minded kids. It’s important that our kids make wise choices when making friends because they will have an influence on them for a lifetime. Do your best to ensure that these friends and their parents have the same value system that you try to instill at home. Before long, when your kids go off to college or to face other challenges in life, you won’t have as much input in this process so while you’re able, help them to maintain high standards in choosing friends.

4. Get Involved in Extra-curricular Activities. If I could return to high school today, one of the first things I would do is become involved in activities that were not required in order to graduate. I remember during my senior year, I applied for so many scholarships. One of the main things that was asked of me was what activities I was involved in outside of the classroom. I struggled to name any. I wasn’t involved in sports, drama club, band or anything. My grades were fine but it became increasingly apparent to me that these activities were highly regarded. 

When I got to college, from my first semester until I graduated, I was always involved in such activities. And you know what? I became so much more well-rounded. My communication and leader ship skills were honed – much more than they were when I was sitting in the classroom. It doesn’t really matter what type of activity it is – sports, cheerleading, clubs, yearbook committee, etc. Kids learn so much about what it takes to succeed in life as they become involved. Ask them what they want to be involved in. Then make every effort to facilitate their involvement. Believe me, this works wonders.

5. Communicate Openly. Perhaps the most important lesson that parents of teens can learn is that communication is a two way street. As our children grow older, they begin to frame their own world – they choose friends, go to parties and really spend a lot of time away from home. When we learn to not only convey our expectations of them but also listen to them, then we have in place a system that facilitates open and honest communication. Issues will arise, no doubt. 

As much as we like to think our kids are immune to the traps that many others fall into, we should be aware that the issues they face are real. If we can foster open communication with them about matters such as sex, drugs and alcohol, then they will be more informed when they make choices in these areas. They may not always make the choices that we would make or that we would want them to make but if they have a standard against which to measure their thoughts and actions, then they will more likely make the right choices.

Well, that's about it. Like I said, this list is by no means exhaustive. But I think it’s a good start.

You know, when I took my daughter to her first day of school, it really hit me that the next time I take her to a new school, it will be when I drop her off to her college dorm. And quite possibly, it will be months before I see her again. She’s growing up. My wife and I really only have 4 more years with her in the house on a daily basis so we ought to make the most of it.

Parenting is the role of a lifetime, isn’t it? It comes with different phases and different challenges. If you’re in the phase of parenting a high schooler, just know that others, like me, are in the same boat and we’re cheering you on as you go through the process. We’re all learning together; we make mistakes but we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and continue trying to be the best parents that our kids deserve.

I wish for you and your family the very best as you go through these transformative years. Just lovingly care for your kids and someway, somehow, you will make it and so will they. Soon they’ll embark on the next phase – adulthood! That’s something to look forward to!

Enjoy your day,

The Upbeat Dad