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Three Lifelong Messages From a Ninth Grade Trainer to Your Teen

August 20, 2023
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I’ve been a high school teacher for almost two decades, and one of the most common messages my freshmen seem to have absorbed by the time they walk through my classroom doors in September is this: “Now it counts.” 

By “it” they tend to mean grades, and as for who or what those grades “count” for, they’re often thinking of their final transcript, sent off through the future to some imagined college admissions board or dream employer.

And I get that. Sure. Transcripts have a way of seeming fixed and official when so much of life is experiment and crossed fingers.

Three important things for your night grader to know about high school. (Twenty20 @nastyatkachenko19)

3 lifelong messages I’d like my high school freshman to learn

But there are many other more lifelong messages I’d like my freshmen to take to heart instead. I share these messages with them throughout the school year. But since retention is a byproduct of repetition, I would love for more parents to, yes, encourage their children to apply themselves to their school assignments, but to also engage them in conversation around the following areas that count well beyond grades.

The ninth grade students who seem to have the best all-around experience at school are those who feel like they belong. Schools—just like the world—are big places. Help your child understand that they can make them more welcoming by actively “finding their people.”

Instead of worrying over whether or not they’ll be invited to join the “kool kids” group chat, encourage them to follow their own unique interests and join a sport, the musical, an affinity group, or a club. And don’t forget the teachers and adults in the building. Identifying one or two mentors who they can go to with questions and concerns will help school feel like their school, a place where they feel welcomed and valued. 

2. Prioritize Health and Wellness

Many students stay awake late at night either studying or tapping away on their phones and video game controllers. While the first behavior might seem more preferable than the latter, the truth is that neither is helpful. Teens need to be both pushed academically and allowed time and space to be social and play, but not at the expense of consistent sleep.

Parents know this: Good sleep is tied to better academic performance and overall health. And yet establishing healthy boundaries for teens can be a challenge, especially when there’s a “big grade” or “big drama” or a “big game” on the line (it’s always big).

That’s why it’s important for you to talk to your ninth grader before they’re exhausted or deep into some streak about how to create those boundaries around their time so they can be successful in the classroom, and also have predictable periods when they can pursue what brings them delight in a way that supports their health instead of derailing it.

3. Practice Independence

Though some high school freshmen are physically larger than the adults in their lives, they’re all still kids (watching a group of them in the lunch room chugging multiple cartoons of milk in quick succession makes this pretty clear). But, when given appropriate levels of responsibility, freshmen are capable of impressive independence. Parents should both talk about this capability with their own child, and demonstrate their belief in it, by allowing for a healthy degree of autonomy as they navigate high school.

Perhaps your child doesn’t understand a physics concept or agree with an essay grade they received. Perhaps someone said something that made them feel small. Of course parents should encourage conversation at home about situations like these. But this next part is key: instead of you, the parent, emailing the teacher or setting up a meeting with the school dean, encourage your child to first attempt those interactions themselves.

Failures should happen freshman year of college

Small missteps, failures, and struggles should happen freshmen year. It’s when stakes are lowest. And it’s how students both learn and grow. 

A solid ninth grade year sets students up not only for college and career, but for a life of genuine interest and inquiry. Help your child think beyond the grade-book, to a place where what counts are the habits they’ve created that will pave their path toward becoming confident upperclassmen, prepared to meet the wider world. 

More Great Reading:

Today I Realized How Much My 9th Grader Can Do Without Me

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