The Parent Coach: The Secrets to Happy High Schoolers

Focus on one serious pursuit, don't grow out of pranks, don't totally ditch the fam, and other secrets to a fulfilling high-school experience

happy high school student

Happy, relaxed, confident, well-rested, disciplined, connected and grateful. Does that sound like your everyday high schooler?

True to their developmental stage, adolescents seek novelty, connection, creativity, relevancy and relaxation. They are wired to be happy (though argumentative), laid back, socially engaged, intensely curious and creative. With trust and nurture they can grow into being disciplined and grateful, too.

Their education makes this hard. The average high schooler rises early and heads to school. There she attends a day of classes, many of which demand sitting down and listening. She goes to club meetings during lunch, plays on a sports team, attends extracurricular activities and comes home to two to three hours of homework. That’s a hard day! I’d be exhausted, grumpy and sometimes rebellious, too. And I don’t even have my brain cracked open ready to be rewired!

Adolescence is a time of courage and creativity. It is not a stage of growth to tolerate and just get through, and it is certainly not just a time to prepare for college, work and life. College admission committees are less interested in perfect resumes and more keen on interesting students who know themselves, are socially comfortable, have pursued one serious interest and have done real learning. An uncluttered, relaxed, focused, engaged high-school experience can grow an independent, responsible, passionate and kind human being who will naturally head to a top college.    

As we stand at the start of a new school year, lets consider what it means for parents, teachers and other adults to support high schoolers toward a happy and fulfilling learning experience. 

Here are some tips for high schoolers and the adults around them:

  • Master one serious interest instead of pursing a whole bunch of unrelated activities — choir, chess club, soccer, art studio all for one student? Toss it! Pick something you are genuinely interested in and pursue it seriously. As Cal Newport says in his book How to be a High School Superstar: “Do something that is hard to explain, not hard to do.”
  • Make time to relax, unwind, be on your own — Take time to reflect on your feelings, your bodily sensations, take time away from the crowd and just do nothing. Don’t just do something, sit there!
  • Learn to focus on one thing at a time — Does your laptop screen look like a bento box while you work? Dive full screen into one piece of work and set that phone on silent. You might even get your work done sooner this way.
  • Play hard, goof off, laugh a lot, be silly — Play is critical for all brain development. Do this with your family and with your friends. Pranks welcome!
  • Get physical and not just in that one way — Exercise and play sports. Movement is integral to higher cognitive functions.
  • Make time to connect with your family — Eat together, play together, be together. Just like you make time for your friends. Your family can be your backbone as you branch out into the world. 

As you start a new school year, consider these ideas. Perhaps you can have a different year at school, this year, next year and every year after and beyond!    

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