Over the last three days I have presented my Adolescent Psychology-The Parent Seminar at three different high schools as part of the parent orientation for their entering 9th graders. Every fall when I do this, I am reminded of how exciting and how terrifying this experience can be for the kids.
At the first school, the newbies were at a dance in the cafeteria while I held the parents captive in the auditorium. Upper class students were stationed at the door of the cafeteria in two long lines facing each other as the 9th graders walked between them. Think walking a gauntlet. For some of these 9th graders passing between these cool older students was exhilarating. Being cheered on, these teens walked through with great confidence, laughing, and smiling and hi-fiving their way into the caf. For some of the kids, this was pure hell. I watched as a group of four boys, definitely on the awkward side of 14 searched for an alternative means of entry. For them, the thought of being under the scrutiny of these older students, no matter how positive, was excruciating. They huddled, spoke in whispers, and when they realized it was now or never, they kept their heads down, making no eye contact with anyone, and shuffled as fast as they could done the line.
At another of the high schools where I presented, the kids and the parents came in together for an introduction of the guidance and advisory staff. Kids sat in the back of the auditorium, parents in the front. What struck me was that though these kids had known each other during their years at the one middle school in this town, it was as if the boys and girls were total strangers. Being 8th graders together was one thing, but now as high schoolers, it seemed as if their history together had been erased. The girls sat on one side, the boys sat on the complete other side, with an entire section of seats between them. They just could not create enough distance. They were starting from scratch, as if to say:" I don't know you, maybe I'll get to know you, maybe not, game on!
The transition to high school for some is the culmination of a dream they have had since they were little, fantasizing about all the high school fantasies kids have. " I am a big kid now.' It's not just the newness of the building that can cause their palms to sweat, but all those fantasies may or may not be realized, and that is terrifying. Will I get a boyfriend or a girlfriend? The clothes I bought are all wrong. Will my old friends still be my friends, or will they think other kids are cooler? I was the best (fill in the blank) in middle school, now there are million other kids who are better than me! When will I ever grow? School used to be so easy for me, not the work is too hard! I thought high school would be the answer to all my problems, but it is just harder.
For some it is better than they expected, especially for 9th grade girls. All of sudden they are getting tons of new attention from boys that are finally taller than they are. Their fantasies have been more than realized. Tweets, texts, invitations to party, it is all so perfect. Except that they are still only 14, and mom and dad don't think all this attention from these older boys is as good as she thinks it is.
So if your 9th graders come home from school, and gives you the silent treatment, I can assure you it has absolutely nothing to do with you. And don't make it about you. Try not to feel hurt and shut out. Just know that a million thoughts, feelings,and worries are coarsing through their body and their brain, and it is just too hard to sort it all. And when you ask the dreaded questions like: How was school? Do you like your teachers? How was practice? Do you like the kids in your classes? Who did you eat with for lunch? You many not get more than a grunt and a groan, and that is fine. You might just say: 'I get starting high school can be pretty overwhelming, I don't want to bug you with a million questions, but I am here whenever you need me." Also if you must ask questions, rather than asking yes or no ones, which leaves room for a "its fine" said in a grunting tone, and no real information, say "tell me about....." You might actually get some information.
Having realistic expectations and understanding that 9th is a transitional year can help get you through this year. Grades might fluctuate, social life may falter, but it's all just a moment in time. There is always next year.
PS: Getting my speaking schedule up and running for the 2015-16 year. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in having me come and present one of my seminars at your school, company, church, temple, community group or on a street corner in your neighborhood!! Or book an Ask The Expert Party. Invite your friends, or the parents of your teen's friends to your house and I'll spend two hours giving you all tips and strategies, geared specifically to your needs.