Parent Toolkit

High School



  • Help Your Teen Express Her Feelings

    Provide your high-schooler with ways to express her feelings and think about her experiences.  One option is to encourage her to write frequently. She can write in a journal, on her computer, or even in a password-protected blog. Promise not to read her writing if she doesn’t want you to, and keep that promise. As your child transitions to young adulthood, she may be less likely to share all her thoughts and feelings with you. Giving her an outlet to write her emotions allows her time for self-reflection and further develops her self-awareness.

  • Model Self-Awareness

    At family dinners, during commutes, or whenever you can, talk with your teen and let her know how you’re feeling and why. For example, you might say, “I’m getting a bit anxious for the holidays already. While I’m excited to spend time with the family, I’m nervous about taking time away from work and having even more to do when I get back.” By creating an opportunity to discuss your feelings, you’re letting your teen see your emotions and that you are comfortable talking about feelings. This provides her a safe place to talk with you about what she’s feeling, too.

  • Talk About Plans for the Future

    Discuss potential career, personal or higher-education goals with your child. Ask her questions like, “Which class is your favorite right now? Do you think you’d like to explore careers where you could use what you’re learning in that class every day? What are your strengths?” Helping your teen identify her strengths and her challenges in an open discussion can get her thinking about ways to further develop those skills into adulthood. Also talk about personal goals by asking, “Who do you look up to, and what makes them admirable?” Perhaps she has a mentor at school who is kind and thoughtful. Your teen is not just dealing with her educational and professional future; she’s also learning more about herself. Try asking, “What’s your favorite book you’ve read for class recently? ” You may find you both liked the same book in English class, which provides an opportunity to further connect with your child.

  • Talk About Labels With Your Teen

    Education consultant Jennifer Miller recommends talking about labels and stereotypes that go along with them. Do peers call your teen a “jock” or a “geek?” Does your child use those terms to discuss other classmates? Give an example of how labels can be limiting and how someone your child might think is a “nerd” can also be so much more than that. Also, be aware of your own language when talking about your teen with friends and family. Try to not use labels when talking about your child, as it can be harmful or hurtful to teens who are trying to build their own identities.


  • Consider Having an "Affirmation Jar" in Your Home

    Affirmations are positive sentences that you read to yourself each morning to start the day. Some people find a daily positive reminder very helpful in setting goals and expectations for how they’ll handle the day. This is something your entire family could do together by writing affirmations on paper to put into the jar. Examples of affirmations are, “I can do it,” “I can handle whatever comes,” or “I am making positive decisions in my life.” On your way out the door, take an affirmation out of the jar, read it, and encourage your teen to do the same. At night, you could all talk about your affirmation and how you brought it into your behavior that day.

  • Talk to Your Teen About Managing Stress

    As your child transitions to young adulthood, her responsibilities and her social pressures increase, and she will often feel stressed. Talk with your teen about how she can better-handle her stress, like taking a break for exercise, making sure to get a good night’s sleep, or making a to-do list to better-organize assignments and other responsibilities. When you see your teen worrying about a test or social situation, gently remind her of ways she can take a step back and handle that stress.

  • Don't Forget Your Teen Still Looks to you as a Role Model

    As some children age they try to distance themselves from their parents, but they do still learn from you, whether they admit it or not. Set a good example for your high-schooler by not letting your emotions get the best of you. Tell your teen what you’re doing to maintain your composure so she can learn from you. For example, if you are in an argument with your teen, say, “I’m not going to raise my voice with you right now. Instead, I’m going to take five minutes and take some deep breaths, and we can continue this conversation after we’ve calmed down.”

Social Awareness

  • Help Your High-Schooler Come Up With Rules for Her Social Life

    As your teen becomes more independent, it’s important to give her some say over her social life and activities. Have a discussion with her about her privileges, responsibilities, and curfew, and work together to set rules and consequences for breaking them. This will help your teen feel included and invested in these important social decisions. It can also help guide her behavior once she ventures out on her own.

  • Encourage Your Teen's Interests and Future Career Goals

    Many teens have passions and pursuits that are important to them, and it’s helpful to encourage your teen to find what her “thing” is. Ask about her interests and about potential careers related to her passions. If your teen has a hard time defining her interests, help her by pointing out her talents and how she can use them in her future career. Once you identify your teen’s interests, you may want to help her find a mentor in that particular field or encourage her to participate in groups or activities that foster her talents. If your teen is the first in the family to go to college, you may also want to find a mentor who has gone through the college process to help prepare her for this important life transition.

  • Talk to Your Teen About Bullying

    Bullying is a growing concern in the United States, as children and teens are experiencing and engaging in this negative behavior at alarming rates. This is especially true in high school level, where cliques, belonging and popularity are major aspects of a teen’s social world. A recent study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics found that nearly 1 in 3 students report being bullied during the school year. Bullying can take many forms, like name-calling, physical harassment, or excluding others, and social media has opened up new avenues for this type of harassment.  Often, teens don’t recognize that their own behavior could be considered bullying. Talk to your teen about bullying and ask her if she has been victimized or if she has seen it happen to others. Discuss her feelings about bullying and ask her to consider how it makes others feel. By reminding her of the harmful effects of bullying, you are helping to provide your teen with the knowledge and courage that she will need to stand up against this behavior in the future.   

  • Practice Respectful Assertiveness

    Education consultant Jennifer Miller recommends talking to your teen about ways that she can be assertive in different situations. Miller says that when teens are faced with criticism from peers, they may be tempted to run away or issue a hurtful comment in return. You can help your teen come up with assertive responses like, “I am not interested in that opinion,” to help prepare her to deal with these types of confrontations. You can also try to notice when your teen is assertive. For example, it could be that she’s asserting her opinion to you. Point out those circumstances and encourage her to use the same kind of tone and confidence in communicating with peers, and particularly with those who are bullying.

  • Spend Quality Time With Your Teen

    Your teen’s social world evolves during high school, and it’s important to keep the lines of communication open. Try to talk frequently and honestly about your teen’s feelings and friendships. Whether it’s at the dinner table or right before bedtime, have frequent chats with your teen about her social life and her role and responsibilities as a friend. Listen patiently to her stories and concerns. Try not to be too judgmental while having these discussions, as this can cause her to withhold information or not want to talk about these topics. You may want to ask if she’d like your opinion before offering it if you want to keep the doors of communication open.

Relationship Skills

  • Discuss Cyber Bullying With Your Teen

    Online bullying occurs frequently in high school, and it’s good to talk to your teen about the importance of being kind to others online. For instance, there have been many news reports about teens who have harmed themselves because of comments on social media. Tell her that she should not bully others online or go along with the crowd when someone is being made fun of online. You can also ask her if she’s ever experienced cyber bullying and how it made her feel. New York City-based teacher Anne Harlam adds that if your teen is reluctant to talk about herself or friends, you may want to bring up stories about cyber bullying from the news, which tend to present both sides of the situation, and are not always so black-and-white in terms of right and wrong. She suggests that you ask your teen what she thinks about these news stories, as teens know more than their parents about what goes on at school, and it is empowering to acknowledge her expertise in these matters.

  • Talk To Your Teen About Responsible Online Behavior

    Most teenagers use electronic devices and social media, and it’s important to teach them how to behave appropriately online. Take this as an opportunity to discuss how the digital age has improved our lives, and then remind your teen  how a person’s online footprint lives on in the virtual world, and that almost nothing can be erased once it’s posted. For example, you can talk to your teen about people who have lost their jobs because they posted something inappropriate, and tell her that many recruiters look at online profiles when making hiring decisions.

  • Talk About the Qualities Needed in the Workplace

    Your teen will be entering the workforce before you know it, and you can help prepare her by talking about her interests and jobs that may involve them. Discuss these options and the people skills that she would need. If she’s interested in a journalism career, you can tell her that she will need to be empathetic, to collaborate with others and to work well under pressure. You may want to explain to her that in any job she will need to deal with different personalities. You can also share your own work experiences with her and describe how you have dealt with some of your office relationships. Neurologist and teacher Judy Willis adds that you may want to invite friends who are in career fields that interest your teen to dinner to talk to her about what she should expect.  

  • Discuss the Dos and Don'ts of Relationships

    Your teen’s social world is evolving during the high school years, and it’s good to talk to her regularly about her friendships and possible romantic partners. Ask your teen about her relationships frequently and talk to her about the qualities that make up a strong and healthy bond, such as respect, trust, empathy and kindness. For example, you may want to inquire about what her friends are like, or about the new teen in her class she just brought into her social circle. You can ask her questions like, “What do your friends do after school?” You can use this as an opportunity to get her to open up about her dating life. For instance, you may want to ask her, “Who do you want to go to the school dance with?” or “Is there anyone in your class that you like hanging out with?” Education consultant Jennifer Miller adds that you shouldn’t be too discouraged if your teen doesn’t want to share right away. If you’ve opened the door to a discussion, then she may come back when she is ready to talk about it with you. Miller recommends finding online resources, like the Mayo Clinic’s website, that can help you discuss sexuality and focus on the facts. For more ideas on what to say, visit our conversation starters guide.

  • Discuss Jealousy and Envy in Friendships

    Talk to your teen about jealousy and envy and how these emotions can present themselves in her interactions and relationships. Explain that no one is better than anyone else, and jealousy and envy can only ruin friendships. You can also give her suggestions on how she can cope with these negative tendencies. For example, if she feels jealous, you can ask her to take a deep breath and consider the other person’s intentions before jumping to conclusions.

  • Use the "Sandwich" Technique

    Author and consultant Faye de Muyshondt suggests employing this technique when teaching your high-schooler how to approach certain conversations, especially when providing feedback or addressing an issue. In basic terms, this method involves “sandwiching” the feedback or problem in between a compliment and a positive conclusion. For example, if your teen feels that a friend treated her unkindly, she could start with a positive comment like, “I value your friendship, and you’re always so nice to me,” then continuing with, “The other day when we were at lunch, you yelled at me and that made me sad.” This can be followed with, “I really want to keep being friends, so next time, just tell me if I’m doing something that bothers you and we can fix it before we start yelling at each other.”

Decision Making

  • Compliment Your High-Schooler's Decision-Making and Support His Choices

    High-schoolers are making many choices and may not consult you on everything. By supporting your teen’s growing independence and the choices that he makes, you’re giving him more confidence and showing that you trust him. The more you give your child room for his own choices, the more he’ll be able to trust and believe in himself.

  • Discuss Adult Responsibilities With Your Teen

    Your teen will be heading out into the real world before you know it, and it’s crucial to prepare her for the decisions she will make once she’s an adult. One of the most relevant topics to cover is finances. Explain to your teen how important it is to set a monthly budget and use it as a guide when paying bills, buying groceries and spending on clothes, outings or gifts. You may want to help her come up with a budget and talk to her about ways that she can make responsible decisions about money. This is also a good time to have a discussion about paying for college and about the responsibilities of student loans. You can use this as an opportunity to talk about financial aid and scholarship options and have her start researching funding sources for college. The more you speak to your teen about money and the expectations of adulthood, the better-prepared she will be to make responsible decisions about these things in the future.

  • Talk to Your Teen About Accountability

    Accountability is an important aspect of relationships, and one of the best ways to teach your adolescent about it is to talk about the role responsibility plays in your family. At dinner time, have each member of your family talk about some of the actions they take that demonstrate responsibility and then discuss what this value means to them. Explain to your teen that people who are responsible behave in ways that make others trust them and take ownership of their actions. They also don’t make excuses for bad behavior or blame others when something goes wrong. Tell your teen that it is good to take responsibility for his actions and that by shifting the blame or playing the victim he is only contributing to the problem.

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