A very rough guide to the high school years

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Some parents worry a lot about which high school to send their child to, while most don’t have a choice and go local. Parents analyse schools for their results, attitudes, cohort, reputation, ‘values’, uniforms and much more. Just remember what’s important to you might not be for your child and that the school will not define their entire existence. No matter which school your teen attends it can seem like a big scary zoo that your child enters as a tiny, cute, meek meerkat and leaves as a magnificent lion or, perhaps, a gawky giraffe. Here’s our very rough guide to the high school years.

by Sarah Macdonald and Cathy Wilcox

So You're Having a Teenager by Sarah Macdonald and Cathy Wilcox book review

Rough guide to the high school years

Year 7

They start sweetly, with their huge, shiny, proper schoolbag, their pristine uniform and their deep desire to please both you and their teachers. That first day of year 7 is both terrifying and exciting for them, and heart-swelling and heart-busting for you. You must walk away and wait until the end of the day to hear how much the big kids swear and how they got lost and how the canteen is so wonderfully unhealthy compared to primary school.


This might help: 11 tips for Year 7 newbies from older high school kids


Within a few weeks of starting high school, expect your child to be overwhelmed with the workload and the emotional overload of changing of classrooms, getting to know different teachers, making new friends and finding their way around. After finishing primary school at the top of the social heap, they are now often friendless, alone and a small minnow. They might feel lost and confused, or throw themselves into so many activities so quickly that they get overtired and lose it. Be thankful if yours adapts instantly and is openly thrilled with themselves. It’s a big year and a huge transition.

Keep an eye on your baby this year, but you can’t baby them too much anymore.

Combine all that with what is probably their first experience of a smartphone and you can get into a tricky too-much-tech-too-soon situation. Some kids who don’t know anyone can develop a playground screen safety net. Keep an eye on your baby this year, but you can’t baby them too much anymore.

Rough guide to high school

Year 8

Just when they’ve got the hang of high school, made friends and are feeling confident, they might be split up into new classes and feel they have to start again.

Year 8 is also the year they start to feel on top of things and less like babies, so work is often less important than getting an A in socialising or in starting to act up and act out. Some teachers mark this as the year teens can become slightly demonic.

Puberty divides kids into some who look almost adult and others who are still tiny.

This year will see the flowering of the deep desire to want to impress and be accepted by their peers. Lots of girls can get distraught over friendship bust ups, being dropped as a BFF and other sudden tribe shifts. Teens can get mean or confused while trying to manage their relationships and they might stop telling you every detail about what’s going on.

That’s good in a way, but it also means you lose touch with who is who and what’s going on. They might lie awake at night worrying about impending world war, or a war that’s split their friendship group. The group dynamics can become cruel and more physically aggressive. Puberty divides kids into some who look almost adult and others who are still tiny.

Year 9

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Year 9 is a shocking year. In recognition of this, some schools practically give up on academic learning and focus on practical life skills – kind of admirable, as all teens should learn how to iron their own shirt and make you a latte.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that year 9 is a shocking year

There is much going on in terms of their social standing and the school group dynamics can look a touch ‘Lord of the Flies’. Your teen can become rude and disrespectful and too cool for school. This is often the year they are choosing electives and then hate their choice and regret it and spend a lot of time trying to get out of it.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Year 9 is a shocking year.

Year 10

Friendships become more supportive and mature in Year 10. Hopefully your teenager will find their peeps, start calming down and focusing on schoolwork.

They will need to choose subjects for the last years of school and this can prove hard for some. How do they know what they want to do, when they still don’t know who they are? Are they sporty? Are they into maths and science? Are they arty? What if they are all or none of those things?

Tell your teen the decisions they make will not dictate their life. Just because they choose chemistry and physics doesn’t mean they can’t go to art college or be a plumber. Then beg them to become a plumber – they cost a fortune and always seem to have too much work to come and fix the screaming pipes in our bathroom.

Year 11

This often starts with a brutal shock at the wave of work heading towards them. Around this time many of them are becoming real humans and better company; they could chat to you without criticising your driving, your clothes and how you walk. Or they might be able to do this with other adults, just not you, and that’s almost enough.

Guide to high school - year 10 things start to settle down

There’s a lot going on in their work and social life. There might be a part-time job, parties, partners and a lot of assignments, so time-management is key. So is the self-control to get off YouTube and focus. Some schools hit teens hard now to get them match fit for final school-leaving exams.


Exciting times: 50+ jobs for teens that will benefit them for life


Final year of school

This is the most stressful year of their life to date. Parents hold their breath until the torture chamber of standardised testing racks them up, measures them and brutalises their brains.

Your job is to be support crew and coach, so try not to start a new full-on job this year or to be away a lot. They are likely to need their favourite food and your presence; the good news is it will be for a relatively short space of time. The bad news is this will be in retrospect. Hopefully, your teen will burst from the exam season as a wonderful, gorgeous adult, ready to take on the world. Good luck with that.

Cover image and text from So… You’re Having a Teenager by Sarah Macdonald and Cathy Wilcox. Murdoch Books, RRP$ 29.99.

What would you add to this guide to the high school years?

So You're Having a Teenager by Sarah Macdonald and Cathy Wilcox book review

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