Ah, the high school years. That brief window of four years that every pre-teen anxiously waits for and every parent dreads. A recent, fascinating article about the power of the high school experience for teens published in New York Magazine online combines much of what we know (and don’t know) about how adolescent brain development, general high school angst, and our experiences in that last school building before graduation, shape who we will eventually become in adulthood. As the article mentions, results from many studies suggest that the memories and experiences we have between the ages of 15-25 stick with us the most – this phenomenon is coined the “reminiscence bump” and can explain why the music we tend to love most as adults is the music we listened to during high school. And may also explain why many of us remember our first cars with reminiscent bliss even though it was nothing but a hunk of metal on wheels…
“Why You Never Truly Leave High School” sheds light on some very interesting information, but as a parent, I want to know…how can I use it? One way to put it into context is to ask what parents can do to support their kids through these “magic” (and most often tumultuous) years. We’ll never be able to shield our kids from all facets of the teenage life experience, but we can empower them and ourselves to become more aware of how their future is shaped during high school.
- Keep teaching your teen. Yes, as parents we’ve been nearly “trained” to assume that zero-3 years is the time to teach your kids nearly everything you want them to know or think that they need to grow up to be wonderful, productive human beings. But reality suggests that this is the end-product of too much research focusing on one specific span of human development. And we know from what little research exists on the teenage span of life that these years are just as important for learning new skills and being exposed to new and different things. Remember, everything your teen experiences from 15-25 stick with them longer and impact them more powerfully. So it’s not too late to teach them how to play the piano, to increase how much time you spend as a family learning from one another, or to encourage them to become involved in charitable activities such as Habitat for Humanity, etc.
- Communication is key. It’s one thing for a teenager to have a bad experience in high school, it’s another for them to feel as though they have no support system to help them cope with it. Communication between adolescents and their parents drops off significantly after they enter high school, mostly due to kids preparing themselves for adulthood and refocusing their concern from their parents, to their friends and finding where they “fit in.” Don’t let that deter you from spending quality time talking with your teen about how they are doing, what they’re experiencing at school, while hanging out with friends, etc. Even a short drive to school can provide 10 minutes of time to just talk about an everyday topic … more of these simple conversations usually lead to your teen opening up to you about more serious issues.
- Battle against labels. One study mentioned in the article found that kids who were labeled in high school as jocks, druggies, or normals, viewed themselves the same way when they were asked to choose which label they identified with the most. Also telling, was that kids who were identified as “normal” and saw themselves the same way, were most happy with their social status. The study found that as kids moved up the social popularity ladder, their happiness decreased because their social status was more “precarious.” Talking to your teen on several occasions about how high-school labels ultimately don’t matter in adult life might help work against this phenomenon. Being supportive of your teen having a healthy variety of friends could also help, and shows your support for your kids to be happy just being who they are.
- Know there is not a simple answer. Ask most college professors what they struggle with the most and the answer is beginning to morph from “teaching against senioritis” to “dealing with students who lack social skills.” A home-school movement that has increased in popularity over the past decade, begun by good-intentioned parents who wanted to shield their children from school-related angst, has led to the largest generation of college students and other young adults who lack necessary social skills (such as cooperative team work, etc.) while in a group setting (whether that’s in a college classroom or workplace environment.) Research findings on the teen years may lead to an entirely new issue of parents pulling their kids out of high-school in order to avoid some of the negative experiences they could face. More research is obviously needed to see what the cost/benefit of home schooling teenagers might be before parents see this as the simple solution to preven their kids from experiencing all of that “magic” teenage angst in high school.
To read the full NY Magazine article, click the following link: http://nymag.com/news/features/high-school-2013-1/index1.html
For more information on parenting teens:
Jamie Seger, Extension Program Coordinator, Family & Consumer Sciences
The Ohio State University