This week, I did something I never dreamed I would do. I sat in the crowded school cafeteria for freshman curriculum night. Despite all my protests and denial, my beautiful oldest baby will head to high school in the fall and I was there to figure it all out and help her begin the journey. But, while listening to the conversations of all the Type-A parents around me, I became even more anxious. I began to wonder if I had somehow failed my rising 9th grader by not starting a strict academic plan for her years ago.

When the night was over, and we had talked with counselors, teachers, parents, and other students, my fear that I was already way behind fell by the wayside. I realized that while I didn’t have her exact four-year plan ready to go, there were a few tips I could pass on to other moms (and dads) of a rising freshman that might help keep the anxiety levels to a minimum.

1. Start with talking to your freshman about THEIR high school plan.

Sounds simplistic, but really talk to them.

Discuss what they enjoy or don’t enjoy about school. Have them make a list of their priorities and favorite subjects. Then share your wisdom and thoughts on all of this. We often have a plan for our kids, and we want them to succeed at the highest levels.

But it is important to remember that academics are just one part of the high school experience.

As parents, we can help our kids develop a solid academic plan that incorporates some of THEIR priorities and not just what will lead to academic success.

2. Think outside of just school.

There are so many activities to enjoy during these teenage years… from sports, to music, to clubs, to jobs. Being a part of these types of activities means time and energy. Remember to factor that in when you are helping them decide on academic schedules. For my daughter, it means taking one or two honors and AP classes instead of more so she can fit in things she really enjoys like volleyball, jiu-jitsu, and volunteering at our church.

3. Encourage your 9th grader to try new things.

I don’t know about you, but I’m still finding new things I’m interested in at 42. I’ve tried to pass on to my kids that you are never too old to learn something new.

Most high schools offer a variety of classes, electives, and clubs. Just because our kids have played the same sport or have been interested in the same hobby for years doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in something new. This is a great opportunity to get them to try something they are interested in, but haven’t had the chance to try.

My daughter is looking to take a photography class. She has never done anything like this before, but wants to investigate it. What better time than now to jump in? (And on the plus side, I don’t have to pay for an extracurricular class.)

4.  Be flexible.

Life has its ups and downs and so will your kid’s high school years. Show them some grace and be there to redirect when things don’t go as planned.

As I remember back to high school and college, the skills that really took me places most often had little or nothing to do with my class ranking, transcript grades, and AP scores. There is enough stress that comes with being a teenager in high school. Our job as parents is to help manage that stress, not continually add to it. 

5.  It’s all about balance.

When all is said and done, these are kids.

Yes, they are young adults with growing responsibilities, but developmentally, they are still kids. They need help to find balance in their lives. Balance between challenging hard work toward a goal, and enjoying time with friends and family. As parents, we need to push them outside of their comfort zone from time to time and allow them to struggle. But we also need to reign them in and help them understand the importance of downtime and rest… allowing them to live in the moment and not always be focused on the future.

So, I don’t have the next four years of my daughter’s school life mapped out. But, as my 9th grader walks through the doors of high school this fall, I know that she is so much more than the classes she takes, the grades she makes, and her class rank.

In the grand scheme of things, her college choice won’t make or break her level of success.

When we come along side our kids and not only help them set their priorities, but recognize what makes them unique and special, we allow them the opportunity to try out all of the skills we have spent years teaching them. They learn that hard work and moderation go hand in hand to keep their stress levels in check and build self-confidence.  Our kids experience purpose and accomplishment. They begin to understand that we learn from the highs and lows and that detours in the path aren’t always bad.

While I’m still not totally ready to be a “mom of a 9th grader,” I know that if she can be brave – so can I. And at least I know we will be on the journey together!

9th grader
Photo Credit: Life Photography by Melissa