Preparing Your Teens for High School {Hint: It’s more than just pens and new shoes}

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Six days before the official first day of school I sat in a hallway on janky chairs with my nearly 16 year old by my side.  It was course change day and the amount of grade eleven students unhappy with their current timetable was astonishing.  Except that they’re all 16 so I really shouldn’t have been surprised that they changed their mind since before summer.  I mean, we were there too.

I had the seat nearest the door and I occupied it for a full 90 minutes before our name was called to meet with my sons counsellor.  For some reason I had left my phone at home on the counter and all of this coupled together meant I had time to people watch.  For 90 minutes.

I’m still at a bit of a loss to describe it.  The first word that pops to mind is heartbreaking but that doesn’t quite sum it up.  A hundred some-odd 16 year olds crammed in an area, all peers, all classmates at some point or another, all sorts of social awkwardness and confusion and what I dare to even call fashion-sense.  There was all manner of ignoring those people and darting eyes to find yours and trying to look cool, whatever that even means.

It gave me a glimpse as to why my teen comes home from high school so exhausted.  It’s not because the classes are hard or because his body is growing at speeds too quick for his own good, though there are those things.  It’s not mostly about hormones or late nights or that PE class that did them in.

It’s navigating the waters of the high school social scene.  It’s realizing that you’re no longer a caterpillar and more like a butterfly with wings that want to fly to so many places but you’re not sure exactly which place you’re supposed to land.  It’s precariously choosing a spot and hoping it’s a beautiful flower in the sun, a place you can hang out and feel safe and warm and loved.  It’s hoping you realize in time that you’ve actually landed on a predator that wants only to eat you, to watch your utter demise.  It’s praying your wings are strong enough to get you out of there in time.

I watched every new person who had to walk through the crowd to write their name on a list at the end of the hall.  I saw the stares from the girls and the snickers or leering from the boys, depending on whom walked by.  I saw the words of disgust.   Anymosity.  Judgement.   There were eye rolls over hair colour choices and looks up and down over wardrobe selection.  Heaven forbid someone walk by with a bit of a limp or have a bum that was a bit too large, then there was downright ridicule.

Of course there were the kids who kept to themselves, oblivious in their own little circle.  There were the ones who stared only at the ground.  The one cheerful girl who smiled and directed every newb to the front explaining what they had to do.  I wanted to squeeze her and tell her the world needed more of hers.  My boy suggested I don’t.

It made me wonder if I’ve prepared my boys enough for this.  This social scene.  This place they spend so many hours of their day.  This world that I rarely see but is so much a part of their life right now.

In our house, getting ready for school isn’t so much about new backpacks and shoes.  It doesn’t revolve around the latest in plaid trends or sharpening all the pencils.  Those are logistics.   Merely tools of their current trade.  Preparing our teens for high school is so much more!

I thought I’d share a few ways we’ve been preparing at our house to get ready for the upcoming year!  We’ve been talking a lot about these things and what exactly they mean.  I think you might agree that these are more important than having the right amount of red pens in your pencil case.

  1.  Develop strength of character

Do your teens know who they are?  Who they want to be?  What they stand for?  If they don’t, as the metaphor in scripture says, they will be like a boat being tossed by the wind, going wherever they are pushed without the strength to choose where they ought to be.  This comes from years of building them up and talking with them about their place in this world but it’s never too late to start.  Ask your teens what kind of person they want to be and encourage them so strongly in the positives.

2.  Help them to decide what they want before they even enter the halls

In our family we prepare for every new situation.  Whether it’s going to someone’s house for dinner or attending your first boy/girl function as a teen we talk, talk, talk it through.  What is expected, what scripture says about how we are to treat people, what kind of guest we want to be, and we make up our minds before we’re in a situation about all of these things.  We use the phrase, “I have made up my mind…”  Same before they enter the doors of that high school.  I have made up my mind to be a hard worker.  I have made up my mind to be someone who helps others.  I have made up my mind to walk away when I hear conversation that is not appropriate.  I have made up my mind to treat girls with respect and as sisters.  I have made up my mind to stand up for those who are being bullied.  I have made up my mind to leave the event if drugs are on the scene. I have made up my mind…..  

3.  Be original

If there’s one thing that happens so deeply in every high school, it’s a pull to go along with the crowd.  It’s a fear of standing out.  Looking different.  Acting different.  Talking different.  Standing for different things.

We value weird in our family.  “The very best kind of weird,” as my medium likes to say.  Because our values, our truths, our ways are different.  Scripture tells us we will be different and because our boys have always attended public school, we’ve had this conversation repeatedly.  That different is what they are called to be and it’s probably something they should get use to.  They will admit that it’s not always easy, in fact, it’s almost never easy, but it will become almost normal for them to be different.  In high school, they need extra encouragement in this.  The stakes are higher than they were in preschool.  They need to know that home is a place of safety and love and encouragement and building up so that they can take on the halls of school as ones who will live by their beliefs no matter how crazy they seem to the world around them.  When no one understands why they won’t just try one hit, or why they won’t just take one sip, or why they won’t date that girl who likes them so much.  When they take a stand on what comes out of their mouth and what they will view online and how they will talk about their teachers or class mates, they will seem weird.  They will be different.  They will be originals and we need to tell them that it’s the very best way to live. (of course, they learn this best from watching us so…..how different are you?!)

Mama’s and Dad’s, we need our teens to know that prepping for school isn’t a frantic shopping trip to pick up pens and paper.  It’s conversations that tackle hearts and minds.  It’s words like integrity and respect.  It’s about choices and being brave.  It’s about making up your mind before you’re in too deep.

I assure you it doesn’t matter what shoes they choose, someone will roll their eyes at them.  Let’s teach them the important stuff.  Let’s teach them more.

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