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Helping Adolescents Transition Into and Out of High School (2): Parents, Caregivers, Family Members

How Can Parents, Caregivers, and Other Family Members Help Meet the Challenge

This is the second of a three-part series on helping adolescents transition through two significant transition periods, entering high school and graduating from high school. Part 1 described the nature of transitions and why they are so challenging. Part 2 will provide some practical steps for parents and caregivers to take that will provide support to students during this challenging time. Finally, Part 3 will focus on the school and how prevention science provides opportunities to improve the high school experience not only for students but also for school personnel.

It was noted in the first Nugget (Part 1) how stressful these transitions are for adolescents. So in what ways can parents, care-givers, and other family members assist young adolescents through this very important period of their lives?

  • Participate in school transition program activities, which help students adjust to the challenges of a new school, new teachers, and new expectations for them;

  • Include older siblings in orientation activities;

  • Become knowledgeable about the needs and concerns of young adolescents;

    • Provide them with manageable tasks at home that will help them develop organizational skills and responsibility

    • Encourage them to try new things and to regard failure as a necessary part of learning and growing

    • Help them turn their anxieties about the transition (e.g., school rules, schedules, locker procedures) into positive actions they can take

    • Support their efforts to become independent

  • Attend school events and stay involved in their adolescent’s schooling

  • Maintain strong family connections with their adolescent, which helps to forge strong connections to school as well

  • Keep alert to signs of depression or anxiety in their adolescent and seek help

  • Explore resources like the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s "Talk. They Hear You."® Campaign (www.

As summarized above, parents can develop and maintain a strong relationship with their teens that offers acceptance and support through this time of change. Parents can do a lot by just listening carefully to teens’ concerns, interests and perspectives, acknowledging that they have heard them, and respecting this growing sense of self. Teens will be focused on themselves, so treating and appreciating teens as individuals is important to maintaining a close relationship. Parents can build in time to spend one-on-one doing something enjoyable with their teen and also maintain family routines which are appreciated by everyone in the family. Always important in youth development is for parents to take the opportunity to express genuine affection. Simple empathic, positive statements from parents about a teen’s emerging interests can go a long way to supporting a growing sense of self.

Parents need to become very skilled at monitoring their young adolescents, which can be very challenging as teens seek their independence. But monitoring remains important so parents need to know where theirs teen are, with whom, and what they will be doing. Parental monitoring also means tracking how a teen is doing in school and other contexts and watching for signs of psychological or behavior problems and getting help as needed. Effective monitoring is a major parenting factor associated with positive adolescent development.

Again, one of the main strategies for parents is to listen and observe their teen openly while staying in touch with other adults who interact with their teen, such as teachers, peer’s parents, and other adults important in their teen’s life. Parents must balance this level of supervision with their teen’s need for privacy. Monitoring of teens becomes much more about conversation, observation and communicating with other adults than the direct supervision during earlier years.

Part 3 will talk about the role of the school not only through the prevention curriculum but also through improving the school and classroom contexts so all students remain in school, graduate, and transition to the workplace and/or college. In this series we will also demonstrate how these positive changes can impact school personnel so they feel safe and secure in the school setting.


Dishion, T. J. & Stormshak, E. A. (2007). Intervening in Children’s Lives: An Ecological, Family-Centered Approach to Mental Health Care. Washington DC: American Psychological Press.

Simpson, A.R. (2001). Raising Teens: A synthesis of research and a foundation for action. Boston MA: Harvard School of Public Health

World Health Organization (2006). Helping Parents in Developing Countries Improve Adolescent Health. Geneva, Switzerland: WHO

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