The unpredictable high school change

If you’re lucky, they don’t turn into hoodlums or druggies. Okay, I exaggerate. But it is with some trepidation that you should anticipate the changes that happen to your sweet, young child when he or she makes the big leap from grade school to high school.

Much like Dr. Frankenstein, you might be saying, “Sweet Lucy! What is this mad creature of my own creation? What have I done?!”

Yes, there is the good side from a parent’s perspective. Actually, a pretty good side. High school demands that teens take more responsibility for keeping track of their homework – and doing it. Teens dress themselves in the morning. And nevermore do you have to drive them to school (if you were) or make their lunches (if you hadn’t given that up already) or do their laundry (that’s a lie: I still do her laundry).

(Confession: I actually had/have a hard time giving that stuff up. It’s what I do! You know – the part about looking after the physical needs of your child – it just comes naturally, and it’s oh-so-hard to give up.)

Is there a good side from your child’s perspective? If yours is anything like mine, then absolutely. Going to high school can be liberating.

In my day (granted, a different era) high school was h—. But I was not the social animal my younger daughter is today. When I asked her about what she liked best about going to high school, she answered with no hesitation: the friends.

From the limitations of a social circle of 17 or so students in her Grade 8 class, my younger daughter has stepped into a social smorgasbord. She takes delight in having a wide variety of friends, from different elementary schools, different backgrounds, different ethnicities, different maturities, and apparently different senses of humour. She seems to revel in making friends from all quarters; in walking down a school hallway among so much diversity and feeling completely at home.

I delight at her delight in difference. This is the stuff of the Canadian dream, where all our children accept and respect one another’s differences.

So far, so good.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always stay like that. Kids can easily fall into a bad crowd or a bad way. High school exposes them to good role models but also bad role models. Homework doesn’t get done. You worry about why they’re not home yet. You get calls from the school about skipped classes. You get the eye-rolling drama.

Me, I get plenty of the eye-rolling drama. There must be a trigger buried deep in the DNA sequencing: sane, nice kids go to high school and suddenly become infuriatingly smart. They know everything. They definitely know more than you do. It becomes harder and harder to just explain something about the world; for example, the significance of the French Revolution. That’s just so yesterday!

And fashion sense? I know better than to suggest anything, like, say, “Hmm. Maybe you should try wearing those blouses I bought for you in September?”

Oh, no. Then the eyelids droop in this expression that conveys utter disgust. Sigh. More wasted money.

As I said at the beginning, I do exaggerate a little. But teenagehood is a whole different world from childhood. You require limitless patience, a different kind of diligence, a little more letting go, and sometimes tough love.

If you have a particularly difficult teen, be brave. I’ve been through the wringer with my elder daughter, and we ended up getting through it just fine. She’s now a confident, accomplished young woman. No more eye-rolling!

And she listens to me too. What could be more wonderful?

Margaret Hoogeven is a local writer, editor, and mother of two school-aged daughters. She can be reached at

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