How to talk to your teen about starting high school

mother and son hugging and talking

Preparing to start high school is an exciting time for both teenagers and their parents, but it’s also a time of big changes. This time can create anxiety, stress and a sense of disengagement, but it’s also an opportunity for personal growth and for learning how to take on new challenges.

Fortunately, there are many conversations parents can have with their teen ahead of their first day of high school to ensure their transition from primary to secondary school is a positive and enjoyable experience.

If starting this conversation feels difficult, you can connect with an experienced family professional through ReachOut’s free one-on-one support service.

How talking can help

Having conversations with your teen about high school can help with:

  • talking through any worries or fears your teen may have about high school so that you can find ways to work through them together

  • encouraging your teen to ask any questions they have about high school. Answer those questions you feel able to, and research those you don't know how to answer together with your teen. This will help you both to feel prepared for the transition

  • improving your communication with, understanding of and your overall relationship with your teen.

How to discuss the move

It’s normal for young people to have mixed feelings about moving from primary school to high school. They might be worried about leaving behind the friends they met at primary school, or about having to change their routines. Listen to your teen’s concerns and let them know that you respect their views. If they are upset about the move, show empathy and understanding. Try to avoid saying, ‘everything will be okay.’ Instead, let them know that you understand their fears and are there to support them through this exciting new chapter in their life.

  • Teach your teen some coping methods that they can use during stressful times. For example, using a sleep or meditation app, doing breathing exercises, listening to age-appropriate podcasts, or going for a walk or a run can help them to relax.

  • Start conversations with your teen when you are feeling calm and have the time to talk.

  • Provide your teen with useful information about high school life, such as how to make friends, build confidence and deal with confrontation. ReachOut Youth offers plenty of resources that your teen may find helpful ahead of high school.

  • Be open to your teen’s questions about high school and respond honestly. If you don’t know the answer, suggest that you find it out together.

  • Reassure them that being new isn’t forever; it’s something that everyone experiences at some point.

Here are some discussions to have.

Making new friends

While it’s likely your teen will move to high school alongside some of their primary school friends, they will also form friendships with some of their new classmates. It’s been a while since your teen has been the ‘new kid’ at school, so they may be worried about how to meet and get to know new people.

  • Reassure your teen that it’s normal to feel worried about making new friends, but when they do connect with other students this will help them to cope with the challenges of school and make it a really fun place to be.

  • Provide opportunities for your teen to talk with you about the new people they are meeting. If possible, show your teen that their new friends will be welcomed at your home after school. This will enable them to form stronger connections with their classmates.

  • Encourage your teen to get involved with an extracurricular activity. Doing something they enjoy will likely connect them with students who have similar interests.

ReachOut.com also offers teens expert advice on forming and maintaining friendships here.

Puberty changes

Puberty arrives at different times for different young people and the hormonal changes usually take place over many years. For some young people, they'll be experiencing puberty when high school hits, and for others it will come a little later. Either way, it's likely your teen will start learning about it in late primary school and into high school. It is a great idea to have conversations about puberty at home too.

  • Pick a good time for both of you to have this conversation. Start it when you’re both feeling calm, relaxed and confident, rather than when either of you is stressed.

  • Reassure your teen that puberty is a normal part of pre-adult life and that, while it may not seem like it, their friends and other students will all be going through similar changes.

  • Provide your teen with factual information about puberty to help them to navigate the mental and physical changes when they happen. This will make it easier for them to accept these changes as a natural part of life.

  • It’s a good idea to give your teen resources for them to learn about puberty in their own time. If they want to learn about it in private, that’s okay. Be supportive, and let them know that you are happy to answer any questions they may have.

Starting a study schedule

Moving to high school means your teen’s workload and study schedule will change and likely increase. Every parent wants their teen to do well in school, and to go on and do awesome things as adults.

Help them to set up a quiet, distraction-free study space in your home, where they will be able to do their homework undisturbed. Also, encourage them to maintain a regular study schedule by coming up with a routine together that works for your family. For example, find out whether your teen prefers to study before or after dinner. These steps will make it easier for them to achieve their study goals.

Beyond the conversation

Once the first hurdle is over and your teen has settled into high school life, it’s important to keep the communication going.

Make time to sit down with them on a regular basis – perhaps on the weekend – to hear how they are going and to answer any questions they may have about school or their teen years.

By checking in with them frequently, you’ll stay informed about your teen’s experience of high school, which will strengthen your bond with them.

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