This may come as no surprise to parents of teenagers, but students between the ages of 15 and 18 experience excessive amounts of stress—perhaps more so now than ever before.
Starting sophomore year, students are taking their first AP classes, which will continue through the end of high school. They’re preparing to take both the current SAT, the new SAT (starting spring of 2016), and the ACT. In addition to AP classes and test prep, many teens are expected to participate in sports, hold a part-time job, and keep their GPA high. With all of these commitments, how can teens be academically successful, participate in well-rounded activities, and still enjoy life from time to time?
1. Start a plan of action freshman year
The transition from middle school to high school is a good time for parents to talk with their children about the future. Although students are in no way prepared to make a final decision of any kind at the tender age of 14, they can start to think about what their options might be. Do they want to go to college? Are they going to reach for the stars and apply to an Ivy League or other selective school? Time is on students’ side right now, and even a fuzzy vision of the future can help shape their high school experience. It’s far better to prepare for college goals and be flexible in the event that they change than to squander opportunities.
Also, it’s a good idea to think about what is reasonable to ask a teen to do starting sophomore year and discuss with them as a freshman. Should they take their first AP class, and if so, which subjects are they most interested in? Parents can discuss with their children and even their children’s teachers the prospect of taking a college-level class while still in high school. Now is the time to explain the long-term benefits of taking the most challenging classes possible and how students can prepare for success in those courses.
2. Maintain a life balance
Even with all the commitments college prep students make, they should still have a chance to be teens and have a social life. Appropriate social time is just as important as academic activities. If a student loves running track, that should remain a priority in their schedule. If they really want the financial independence of a part-time job, perhaps a four-hour shift on Saturdays can be managed. Social activity with friends at least once a week should also be a part of their lives. In addition to personal happiness, preteens and teens need to continue to develop their social skills so they can function at college and in the workplace. And from a college-prep perspective, it’s doubly beneficial, since the student can demonstrate their commitment and engagement through those activities.
3. Look at colleges in advance
Although most students will change their minds several times, it helps to start the college search during freshman or sophomore year. This doesn’t mean students have to travel the country with their families to choose colleges that early; rather, they should just start exploring their options. Alternatively, if looking at a college that soon is too stressful for students, parents can talk to their student to discuss and, hopefully, allay their fears. For example, considering their college options can actually make maintaining a study-life balance easier once junior and senior years arrive; if a student is primarily interested in state universities, there’s no reason to take the SAT five times to get a 1900 if their school requires a 1750.
4. Take advantage of the summer
Students don’t normally spend the summer working on academics, which is understandable because everybody needs a break. However, attempting to squeeze in test prep, AP classes, community service, and sports all in a 10-month school year can be overwhelming. Parents can talk to their teens about what they can do over the summer that will make life easier in September. Can they get 100 community service hours out of the way when they don’t have additional academic commitments? Can they get a part-time job or internship to save money and gain practical experience? Using the summer wisely can make the school year much easier for both teens and their parents.
The bottom line
The majority of teens experience a high level of stress, especially during college prep. Maintaining a study-life balance and considering personal happiness is equally important. One of the best ways to maintain this balance is to develop excellent time management and organizational skills. Knowing what is just enough and what is too much is one of the keys to coping with stress in high school.