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What to Talk About When You Talk About High School

The thought of getting a kid ready for high school can make you do crazy things . . . like start a blog. When Erin was getting ready to send her oldest to high school, she was speed-dialing Ellen on the daily. Her anxieties about transitioning her son from a small, private grade school to a larger public high school ran high. Combine them with her apprehension of sending a child to high school period and it created a perfect storm of tension, fear, and misgivings. The only pressure valve on this emotional cooker was her conversations with Ellen and other close friends. Our conversations during this period became the inspiration for our blog, The Sisterhood of the Sensible Moms.

Now not everyone will create a blog, but everyone will send their kids to high school. So as we get ready to cross two more kids over into high school, we thought we would share some of the things we talk about when we talk about high school in hopes that those of you crossing that bridge for the first time might benefit from the wisdom of our collective experience.

  1. TV/Movie High School bears little resemblance to the actual halls you will walk for the next four years.

Our kids, and our girls in particular, feel that media has let them down. There are pressures for sure, but they are not so finely drawn or amped up as when Disney depicts them. Are there cliques? Absolutely. Do they look like Mean Girls? We wish it was that obvious to find the rotten apple in the bunch. The truth is that high school relationships look a lot like adult relationships and sometimes they won’t know when their friend will turn on them.

  1. Plan their escape route before they need one.

The time for solving problems is before you actually have them. We both tell our kids to throw us under the bus if necessary. In Erin’s family, they pull the old “my mom would kill me/won’t let me/said no” trick. Kids bow before a mean, crazy mom. The offenders will back off and your kid gets off scot-free. We also advocate pulling a “sick kid” when the need arises. If our kids are at a party that’s headed south, they can text “sick kid” and they will get a pick-up. All conversations about the situation will be delayed until everyone is “feeling better”.

  1. Trust is earned.

Love is unconditional, but trust is not. A casual lie about having cleaned your room when it takes all of three seconds and one whiff to verify that this is in fact not even passingly true? Worse than not cool, it erodes trust. Hit hard on the notion that casual lying when the truth would suit them better makes it really hard to believe them when the stakes are higher.

  1. High School is a great time to explore and try new things.

Let them know that they can try new and different things or even put on old familiar ones and take it to the next level. High school is about finding new friends, interests, passions, and most importantly, uncovering who they really are. We are all about encouraging them to try on different hats.

  1. Be your best self.

One of the challenges of parenting teens is that they can look lazy, insolent, disengaged, and apathetic. Don’t get sucked into the labeling trap. These are masks for things like fear and anxiety. Remind teens daily of your expectations and be ready with consequences when they are not met.

  1. Safety first.

In both of our homes, we talk candidly about what that means in all aspects of their lives. The stakes are so high that they need honest information from us as well as opportunities to ask questions and get answers. We rely heavily on facts and have adopted “all questions welcomed” policies.

  1. Encourage the buddy system.

Two Jiminy Crickets are better than one, so encourage kids to travel in twos everywhere. Boy or girl, there is safety in numbers. In a pair of buddies, usually one of them is able to put the brakes on something unsafe or get help or call foul.

  1. The life you are supposed to have will not pass you by.

Good or bad, all of these high school experiences are building the uniquely awesome story that belongs to just them. Even if things don’t always turn out the way they hoped, there is value in the experience.

And one final thought, we know that talking to a sullen uncommunicative kid can be hard, but high school is when they need us the most. So we will just leave you with this nugget of wisdom that works every time: take this show on the road. We don’t know what it is about putting one foot in front of the other to get a conversation flowing but it does. And chances are when you get your kid talking, it won’t just be about high school or classes or stresses but about what really matters: you and your kid.

Have a kid about to head to middle school? Check out that part of this transition series here!

Have a kid about to head to college? That part can be found here!

Ellen Williams and Erin Dymowski are the two friends and writers who share the blog, The Sisterhood of the Sensible Moms – a place of support, sensibility, and fun. 

 *The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility ( or any member.*

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