Q: My daughter just entered a "cliquey" suburban high school, and she's having a hard time fitting in. She came from a small K-8 school where she was popular and everyone was "family." Do you have any suggestions on how she can make the adjustment to her new school?
A: Transitions often present challenges for young people -- and adults, too! Starting high school is no exception.
"The additional hurdle of tackling a completely alien environment only adds to the stress she feels," says Stephen Wallace, associate research professor and director of the Center for Adolescent Research and Education (CARE) at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pa., and author of "Reality Gap: Alcohol, Drugs and Sex -- What Parents Don't Know and Teens Aren't Telling" (Union Square Press, 2008).
He suggests these ways to offer constructive support:
-- Relax your rescue reflex. All kids this age are confronted with three difficult, but important, developmental tasks: establishing an identity all their own (Who am I?); becoming more independent from their parents (I can do this on my own!); and establishing more adultlike relationships with their peers (I have support outside of my family.).
"It's important to provide empathy and emotional support," says Wallace, "but let your daughter begin to navigate her own way down this new path."
-- Serve as a sounding board. Do more listening than talking.
"Listen to what your daughter has to say about her new environment and peer group, then ask open-ended questions," says Wallace. "In doing so, you help her clarify what types of activities and friends she is looking for and practice approaches to finding them."
-- Share your stories. Young people don't necessarily have the "institutional knowledge" that helps them see the light at the end of the tunnel. By letting your daughter know about some of your own social struggles and how you persevered, you will help her to find the confidence she'll need in this new situation.
-- Encourage her to find an adult mentor. Making a strong connection to a teacher, coach or administrator is a big plus during the high school years. A mentor can be instrumental in guiding her to specific courses and extracurricular activities and offer helpful advice when it comes to college applications.
-- Support her involvement in the school community.
"Schools are like small towns," says Wallace, "and things run more smoothly when people get involved. Young people want to make a difference in the lives of others. Encourage her to join groups or clubs that contribute to the community."
-- Stay close. In study after study, teens say their relationships with their parents make them feel good about themselves.
"While this may surprise some parents, a majority of teens say they want to spend more, not less, time with their parents. And that's a really good thing!" says Wallace. "Research shows that teens who spend time with their parents, talk with them and feel close to them are overwhelmingly less likely to drink or use other � HYPERLINK "http://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/psychopharmacology" �drugs� or become depressed than those who don't."
(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)