How to help middle school and high school students have a successful school year

Advice from a school social worker

Brenda Wade, MSW, CSSW, LCSW-C

happy kids in school hallway

It's almost back-to-school time! Parents and caregivers may resist thinking about returning to the school year routines already. Because who wants to abandon lazy summer mornings, weekends at the pool, ice cream cones, concerts in the park, family reunions, and trips to the beach?

But even in the midst of relaxation, students and parents alike may experience some anxiety about the upcoming school year.

There can be enormous pressure for parents and students to make the right steps, with few mistakes. After all, success in primary and secondary school can lead to college acceptance, which can lead to success in adulthood.

Below are tips for parents to consider when preparing and helping their child navigate their way through a successful school year.

Tips for Parents of Middle Schoolers

  • Review any information that your child’s school sent at the end of the previous school year. Pay special attention to any relevant assignments and suggestions to help prepare your child for the coming school year.
  • Regularly visit your child’s school district and school websites for pertinent updates. Most school websites contain links to local and community-based organizations and resources.
  • Talk with your child about their perceptions of the previous school year experience and about their expectations and goals for the coming school year. Encourage them to develop organizational tools and processes for their school work.
  • Encourage your child to positively engage with peers and to develop friendships built on understanding, acceptance, honesty, and trust.
  • Support your child’s participation in athletic and extra-curricular activities that interest them. Encourage curiosity to help them expand their interests further.
  • Communicate regularly with your child’s teachers, participate in parent activities, and encourage your child to view their teachers as allies and supporters of their educational success.
  • Provide an open, nonjudgmental, safe space for your child to communicate with you about anything that might be troubling them. Be aware of shifts in your child’s behavior patterns, eating patterns, mood, peer group, and academic engagement.
  • Communicate unconditional love and support to your child and demonstrate your commitment to them as they navigate their school journey.
  • Regularly visit your child’s school district and school websites for pertinent updates. Most school websites contain links to local and community-based organizations and resources.

Tips for parents of high school students

  • Be aware of any shifts in mood, eating patterns, academic performance, peer groups, and body presentation.
  • Regularly communicate your love and support, and encourage your child to discuss with you anything that might be troubling them.
  • Encourage your child to create a vision board that outlines his/her goals, aspirations, dreams, and plans.
  • Encourage them to develop organizational tools for school work and for vision board goals.
  • Encourage your child to develop positive relationships with peers outside of their core peer group.
  • Maintain open communication and dialogue free of bias and judgment with your child about current events. Gauge their understanding and perception of the plight of others.
  • Explore with your child their use of social media. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of an active social media presence as an adolescent.
  • Encourage your child to become involved in school clubs, organizations, athletic teams, and community service projects.
  • Clearly define your expectations of academic engagement and performance throughout the school year. Help your child to understand and follow school rules and policies.
  • Communicate regularly with your child’s teachers. Be an active partner with the school community.
  • Teach your child to assemble their “village” of people who support and encourage their success. These individuals may be peers, family members, neighbors, church members, and past or current teachers.

What social workers can do to help parents

  • Provide parents with information about resources and help them access resources, if needed.
  • Educate parents about developmental milestones in adolescents, and the mental health of school-age children and information regarding access to mental health professionals.
  • Engage with school personnel to create activities that foster parent participation.
  • Advocate on behalf of parents to the school administration and community.

Brenda Wade

Brenda Wade, MSW, CSSW, LCSW-C, is a Maryland-based clinical social worker with more than 20 years’ experience working in schools. She is a BSWE-approved clinical supervisor and consults with parents of school-age children on education issues and with human services organizations on strategic initiatives and development. She’s also a crime fiction novelist, writing under the pen name Hunter William.