Back to school means big transitions for students

By: Sonney Wolfe, Placer Herald Correspondent
-A +A

Tons of excited and apprehensive kids flooded into school last month, and in their wake, a crowd of parents blowing kisses, taking pictures and even tearing up.
By now, homework schedules, school rules and budding friendships are taking root, at least for most. Some kids, particularly those beginning junior high or high school this year, could still be trying to find their niche. But don’t worry, it’s normal.
Junior high
Middle school may well be the most challenging transition a child ever makes, said Marnie Thomas, school psychologist for Spring View Middle School in Rocklin.
Coupled with physical changes occurring in “tweens’” bodies, “The new demands to juggle multiple classes, locations, teachers, expectations, projects, tests and assignments as well as navigating through the social maze will create a whirlwind of challenges and anxiety,” Thomas said.
With that, some parents will encounter a few changes in their children.
“Every child is unique and not every problem will be a concern for every parent,” said Bill Wright, a Rocklin-based, licensed marriage and family therapist who has spent the last five years working with kids aged pre-school to young adult.
On the forefront for tweens is an increase in classes. Wright said switching from one to six classes can be overwhelming for some, and yet give a “sense of freedom” to others.
Peer pressure is also on the rise and will most likely change the toys and activities kids partake in. Tweens might suddenly be more interested in hip clothes and shoes and “hanging out” with friends or possibly even dating or joining a school or social group, Wright said.
Biologically, some kids are entering puberty, which triggers not only physical changes, but also self-image and even sleeping pattern changes: they experience a later release time for melatonin (a hormone inducing sleepiness) causing tweens to inadvertently stay up and sleep in later. With early school schedules, long days and added workloads, pubescent tweens can experience sleep deprivation.
“The feeling can be compared to walking around jet-lagged every day,” Wright said.
With these changes in mind, Thomas said there are many things middleschools provide and parents can encourage in helping with the transitions: a school’s website is a great tool to help kids and parents can check for missing assignments and initiate e-mail communication with teachers.
Also, setting up a study schedule and homework zone at home, encouraging tweens to problem-solve with teachers and seeking out school counselors, a trusted teacher, or even coaches and staff can help tweens adjust and settle in with all the change.
High school

Starting high school is more than going back to school. It’s a brand new situation, more classes, and lots of change, said Helene Carr, academic counselor for Rocklin High School.
Upping the load from six to eight classes, high school requires a more independent and self-reliant teen.
“They have to become self-advocates,” Carr said.
School starts 45 minutes earlier than junior high — there are Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Tuesday, Thursday classes to juggle, and organizational skills and time management to incorporate.
“It’s a change the whole family experiences,” Carr said.
Behavior wise, peer pressure builds entering high school and teens’ need to feel a part of something grows.
Wright said teens will go to “great lengths” to fit in, sometimes resulting in behavior unacceptable to parents, like dating, curfew, or other house rules.
Also at this level, most kids “realize the need to obtain some success in life and begin formulating their own plan to succeed in the world,” Wright said.
This may result in freshman putting more focus on sports or school clubs, Wright said.
High schools, being well aware of the huge shift freshman experience, put many resources in place. Carr said teachers hold office hours before and after school, peers offer tutoring and counseling, and community referrals for personal counseling are available.
Everything from daily announcements and game times to homework assignments and teachers’ e-mails can be found on their website. They also offer “plus” period or “intervention” (an extra period midday where kids having trouble are assigned by teachers to get extra help).
Just for parents
Every parent/child relationship is different. Some parents experience extreme changes in their kids, while others observe a more gradual one, and parents themselves experience a range of thoughts and emotions, as well.
“The process is a journey for the child to eventually cross over the threshold into adult independence,” said Vicki Watson, a Rocklin life coach.
Though kids may rebel, Watson encourages parents to think of the changes as a gift.
“If the child did not rebel (even if to simply cut the umbilical cord of dependence) then they would never make the plunge into adulthood,” she said.
Watson said a few simple things like trusting your child to use the tools you’ve given them thus far, listening for the sake of letting them be heard and seen, giving them choices and options, allowing mistakes and celebrating efforts are great ways to help both the parent, and the child.