New Challenges Kids Face in High School

By Amanda Morin
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At a Glance

  • High school places more emphasis on getting good grades and requires more homework than ever before.

  • High-schoolers need to manage time well, stay organized and take good notes.

  • In high school, self-advocacy becomes more important than ever for kids with learning and thinking differences.

The transition from middle school to high school can be stressful for all teens. Academic expectations increase, and socializing and extracurricular activities become more important, especially if your child is heading to college.

Some of these expectations can create unique obstacles for kids with learning and thinking differences. Here’s a closer look at some of the challenges high-schoolers face.

Bigger School and Age Differences

One challenge for high-schoolers is adjusting to a new learning environment. The school itself is likely to be larger and have more students than middle school did. While your child may have had practice with switching classrooms between classes in middle school, navigating an even larger school can be tough.

She won’t only have to keep track of time and know the best path between classes, but she may have to plan a trip to get materials from her locker, too. And high schools often use schedules that vary from day to day. For kids who struggle with executive functions or visual processing issues, this type of planning and navigation can be overwhelming.

There’s also a shift in class makeup. In middle school, your child had different teachers for different subjects. But for the most part, she probably was in classes with other students in the same grade. In high school, her classes are more likely to have students from a variety of grade levels.

These age differences can be tricky for kids who struggle with social skills or who are less mature than their peers. Your child may be exposed to risky behaviors in a way she wasn’t before and feel pressure to fit in.

This can be especially difficult for kids with ADHD. And it can be hard to get used to for kids who have trouble following social cues or self-advocating. Teaching your child ways to deal with cliques can help.

Time Management and Study Skills

Staying organized enough to get everything done can also be a struggle in high school. Various learning and thinking differences can cause trouble with time management. But you can help her learn how to manage tasks to keep herself on track.

In-class work can be hard for teens who struggle with taking notes. They may not be sure what they need to write down. Or they may struggle to keep up with what the teacher is saying. Specific note-taking strategies can help, along with note-taking apps.

With more work and tests, your child also needs to have strong study skills. She may have assignments in different classes with the same deadline. But you can help her break long-term assignments down into smaller, more manageable pieces. You may also want to consider showing her how to use a day planner, or explore apps to help her keep organized.

It may be helpful for her to learn strategies to study for tests and try studying in ways that complement her learning strengths. Consider creating a homework contract with your child if homework battles are an issue.

If your child has an IEP or a 504 plan, you can work with her and the team to figure out accommodations that will help as well. If your child doesn’t get special education services, you or she can ask the teacher if there are any informal supports that would help. That might include teacher’s notes or study guides.

Self-Advocacy

In high school, self-advocacy is a big focus for kids with learning and thinking differences—and not just with peers. As the expectation to be an independent learner grows, your child will need to start playing a bigger role in her education.

And if she has an IEP, it’s not only a good idea, it’s the law. She needs to start participating in IEP meetings and have input into her transition plan. You can also ask to have self-advocacy goals included in her IEP.

Asking questions, seeking help and speaking up about her needs become increasingly important. She may be expected to understand and discuss her learning differences and start asking for the accommodations she needs.

But that can feel overwhelming for some kids. It’s important to help your child find ways to self-advocate that let her feel comfortable.

School-Life Balance

Afterschool activities or a job can make staying on top of things even more complicated, especially if your child has executive functioning issues.

Both are great ways to make friends. They’re also a great way for your child to explore her interests and find things she loves to do. But because they take up time, jobs and activities can make it hard to get everything else done. For some kids, it’s also a reason to avoid doing schoolwork that’s challenging.

Talk to your child about ways to balance a job and school. If it seems like too much for her, she may want to volunteer instead. And if you’re not sure she’s ready for a job, you can begin by working on job readiness skills at home.

More Ways to Help Your High-Schooler

If your child has an IEP, make sure she has a transition plan in place. You may also want to encourage her to meet her teachers before school begins.

It may take some time for your child to get used to high school. It may also take some time for you to get used to having a child in high school. The staff may not try to get to know parents as much as you’d like or are used to. There may be different rules than there were at your child’s middle school. And policies around tardiness, electronics use and absences may be adhered to more strictly.

That’s why it’s important to know how to contact your child’s teachers. Download and fill out a contact sheet, and see an example of an effective email to a teacher. Explore conversation starters to use with teachers. And find ways to talk to teachers about specific learning and thinking differences.

High school can be an exciting but challenging time. By staying in the loop with your child and her teachers, you can help her overcome challenges and find success.

Key Takeaways

  • Encourage your teen to have good study habits and help her keep track of when assignments are due.

  • Kids in high school need to stay motivated and get their work done on time, even if they’re involved in extracurricular activities.

  • Learning how to speak up for themselves can build confidence and keep kids from feeling overwhelmed.

About the Author

About the Author

Amanda Morin 

worked as a classroom teacher and as an early intervention specialist for 10 years. She is the author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education. Two of her children have learning differences.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Bob Cunningham, EdM 

serves as executive director of learning development at Understood.

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