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Parent's Guide To High School

Parent's Guide to High School


High school is one of the most important periods in a child's life. Our kids have become young adults; they are growing up, making their own decisions, forming lasting friendships, and having experiences that will mold who they are and affect the rest of their lives.

By the time your kids reach ninth grade, they're only four short years away from going to college or starting their job search. High school is where they will learn the necessary skills to succeed as a fully functioning adult. It won't be easy. They'll face a much more difficult academic load with a new range of social pressures and physical and emotional changes. High school kids often want to think of themselves as independent and may be reluctant to ask for help or even admit to a problem, but they need your support more than ever, and you need to understand the difficulties and challenges they'll soon be facing. Here's a quick rundown of what to expect and how to prepare for it.

Academics and College Preparation
Low-income students face additional challenges that make success harder, but that doesn't make it impossible.

High school sets the stage for a young person's academic and professional life. Low-income students face additional challenges that make success harder, but that doesn't make it impossible. Start by making sure your child is in school. Attendance is a crucial measure of how likely it is your child will drop out or underperform. Low-income students are often absent more often than their more affluent counterparts, because of external factors like unstable housing, lack of transportation, weak support system at home, bullying, and more.[1] While graduation rates are increasing across the board, dropout rates for low-income students are still six times higher the national average.[2] Strictly enforcing a no-absence rule with your child is unnecessarily harsh, especially since they might need to take a sick day or two, but you can encourage your child to attend school to the best of their ability in small ways. Reward them with extra leisure time, fewer chores if they make it through a week or month with a perfect attendance record. Establish fair but firm consequences for any incidences of truancy. Have a sit-down with your teen and set your expectations at the beginning of the year.


There's extra pressure to perform well because their grades and activities will determine whether they will get into college, what colleges will accept them, and often whether or not they will be eligible for scholarships.[3] Most scholarships base their acceptance and funding rate on merit, and an impressive score card is the best way to secure your child's future. Getting good grades can be extra difficult for low-income students who usually are unable to afford expensive textbooks, don't have access to the internet and the multitude of online resources, or have a home environment that isn't conducive to learning. You can help your child by preparing a distraction-free workspace at home and finding low-cost alternative learning experiences like tutoring arrangements, remedial classes, and peer study groups. Take advantage of any free courses and programs offered by the school or other community institutions. You can also be more hands-on with reviewing your child by offering to quiz them right before a big test.

Helping a high school student with academic work isn't always easy. You're part coach and part cheerleader, and in many cases, you may need to do some catching up just to keep up with the subjects they're studying. Don't hesitate to reach out to teachers for help. Most teachers are delighted to see parents actively engaged in their children's learning experience and will go out of their way to help. It's also worth investigating free online or even physical tutoring sessions that are available to low-income students in many areas. Remember that just by showing interest and being available to help and support your child, you are already giving them a huge advantage. Research shows that parent engagement is the single most important factor in student performance.[4] It's not always easy to give the support a student needs, especially when academic and emotional struggles come around and you're working extra jobs just to pay the bills, but the greatest gift you can give your child is simply being there with love and a helping hand, no matter what.

Relationships and Belonging

High School isn't just about grades and academics. The relationships built along the way play a key role in determining how young people perceive themselves and their potential. Teenagers usually group themselves according to how similar their values and interests are to each other. How children see themselves (or how they want to see themselves) will define what kind of friends they make, and vice versa. Kids who feel like they don't fit in are more likely to have fewer friends and are more vulnerable to bullying, so don't take your child's desire to belong lightly. Peer pressure is a very real concern especially among vulnerable kids who just want to find their clique.


Children who come from low-income family and are surrounded by wealthier kids can face additional insecurity and isolation. They might feel left out if they can't afford to go out with their friends, wear the same trendy clothes, or sport new, expensive gadgets. Just be honest with your children about your income level and what you can realistically afford, but also give them options as a compromise. Offer to have them take on extra chores at home for an additional allowance, or help them find a part-time job. If that isn't feasible, find low-cost or DIY ways to help them feel more like part of the group. Go with them to thrift stores to add cheap items to their wardrobe, or suggest get-togethers at your home or a park instead of a mall. Kids who attend schools dominated by low-income students may fall into the trap of underestimating their potential or assuming that they have no chance at success. It may help to look for role models among young people who have used education and hard work to beat the poverty trap.

It's useful to keep at least somewhat abreast of your child's culture. Knowing the TV shows they watch, the music they listen to, and the unique language they speak can go a long way toward bridging the inevitable age gap. Keeping up with celebrity gossip may be the last thing on your mind, but knowing about what popular figures have gotten into trouble with relationships or substance abuse can give you a comfortable way to build a conversation about a difficult topic.

High school is also when relationships that go beyond friendship start playing a major, and often central, part in our children's lives. This can place young people on an emotional roller coaster that can have a serious impact on academic and social life, but it's also part of growing up, and it's something we all need to manage. Young people are often reluctant to discuss details of their romantic relationships or situations with parents, but keeping lines of communication open and showing non-judgmental support go a long way toward keeping life sane. Of course, allying people need to be familiar with the real-world issues of teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and the other unwelcome consequences that young attraction can produce.