The transition from middle to high school is one of the most vulnerable times in a child’s development as this is one of the most potentially stressful times in their lives. A student’s performance in ninth grade has been shown to predict both, their likelihood of dropping out of high school, as well as their likelihood of attending college. While your child will have participated in previous academic transitions such as the transition from elementary to middle school, there are several factors that make the transition from middle to high school more challenging.
First, the transition to high school represents an increase in academic demands. In other words, courses are more challenging in high school than they were in middle school. Second, students have more responsibility as they have to proactively ask for help/clarification from their teachers. This is due to the structure of most high schools in which students have individual schedules as opposed to middle school where it is more likely that a group of students will have a team of teachers. This means that a child’s teachers are not directly connected to each other so may not notice the academic or social difficulty a child is facing across their courses/the school environment as a whole. Third, beyond the academic transition, there is also a social transition as students are entering a place with an existing social structure that they have to navigate. Finally, students in this transition are also in the middle of the transition to adolescence. This time period after puberty represents a key time in adolescent brain development and as a result of these changes the social world around the adolescent becomes more important to them. Thus, children are making a social transition at a crucial time in their development when peer acceptance is becoming incredibly important to them. Taken together, a child transitioning to high school is facing the challenge of increased academic expectations coupled with trying to find their place socially at the same time.
While this transition can seem daunting, there are several ways in which parents can assist their children through this transition. The first is understanding that your child is likely to be stressed as they make this transition. Research indicates that this transition can lead to increases in anxiety and depressive symptoms. Parents can help by helping their children to realize that the stress they are experiencing is normal. Another way that parents can help their children during this transition is to help their children balance the new academic and social demands they are facing. Getting involved in extracurricular activities is a great way for freshmen students to ease into the social world of the high school. It is important that the students not get overinvolved as this may impact both their academics and level of stress. Parents also need to balance their expectations for their children with the realization that high school is going to be harder academically. It is likely that a child’s grades may be slightly lower in high school than they were in middle school because of the increased academic demands. Students will be in the process of learning how to meet these academic demands so it is important to support them to do so.
Generally, with support from their teachers and families, students are able to navigate this transition, but some will have greater difficulty. If you notice major changes in your child’s behavior during this transition, then it is important to reach out to the school to find out what supports are available. These behavior changes can include acting out at home, or withdrawing/being less social. Major changes in a child’s behavior at school, in their grades, or their interest in school are also warning signs that you should reach out to the school.
The best thing that parents can do during this transition is to be supportive and to listen to their children. For additional suggestions for helping your child with the transition from middle to high school, please see the following websites:
Gelbar, N. (August 13, 2018). Helping Your Student Make the Transition from Middle to High School.Retrieved from https://infoaboutkids.org/blog/helping-your-student-make-the-transition-from-middle-to-high-school.