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Adjustment to high school - what's normal what's not?

ruthstoopsruthstoops 51 replies20 threads Junior Member
Hello there - my son is a very calm kid but is now starting high school and is having trouble falling asleep. He is overloaded with extracurriculars but I can't imagine him cutting back on them as they seem crucial to his happiness. 3 of his 5 classes are honors (all were recommended, not foisted) and they seem on the edge of too hard for him. I don't want a sleepless stressed-out son. How much is normal stress? I will also add that before puberty, he had social-emotional supports - a boy who cried allllll the time. Puberty seemed to erase that but I don't want a silently suffering child.
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Replies to: Adjustment to high school - what's normal what's not?

  • socowondersocowonder 69 replies7 threads Junior Member
    Hi ruthstoops

    My now junior had a pretty rough freshman year. She went from a small to a large school and it was a very overwhelming adjustment for her. She did silently suffer though and I didn't really know how bad freshman year was for her til she started talking about it this year. Like your son, her extra curriculars (including 6.30am jazz band every morning!) was crucial to her social adjustment and so I couldn't ask her to cut that back even though it meant she was quite sleep deprived. Her classes though were not much more demanding in Freshman year than they had been in middle school -- so the stress was social rather than academic. I think they do get through it.

    The academics only get harder though after freshman year. It really ratcheted up for our daughter in sophomore year and again in Junior year. So I would monitor his progress this year and if he is still struggling with the workload make sure he doesn't take on too much next year when the temptation is to start loading on the APs.

    BTW, one thing we did -- and still do -- is turn off the internet at 10pm and remove phones from the bedroom. That way, homework has to get done by that time, and it makes it a little easier for sleep to occur.
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  • ruthstoopsruthstoops 51 replies20 threads Junior Member
    That's uncanny, because he was indeed doing geometry proofs at 945! I have been trying to let him manage his time and he is pretty diligent but definitely was doing homework too late. I don't think my son has social adjustment because the extras are all hangovers from middle school - they have made that piece a snap. But I did tell him last year that I thought his middle school was giving him no homework and high school was not going to be like that. Now he knows.
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  • socowondersocowonder 69 replies7 threads Junior Member
    edited October 10
    yes my daughter's middle school prided themselves on "piling on the homework" so they'd be ready for high school and indeed there wasn't much of an increase in the workload til she hit APs in sophomore year. Kudos to you for letting your son manage his own time, largely , since that is a crucial skill for them to develop.
    edited October 10
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  • TS0104TS0104 961 replies27 threads Member
    It can be a tough adjustment especially when the kid is in fall sports. Here, at least, the HS sports practice schedule is quite a bit longer than in middle school and can run late depending on who gets the field. Does his EC schedule ease up after fall sports?

    It's probably time for a discussion about sleep and putting into practice routines that will promote good sleep hygiene, specifically the screen time before bed, and maybe some organizational structures, if he is worrying about what needs done/did he do everything/what is coming up tomorrow.

    My S is a freshman and we have moved to making him do his homework after dinner, rather than before bed, because "before bed" could stretch into sleep time. It was a pretty easy shift and I'm ok with still setting some structure for him with time management, as we get through this transition to HS period.
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  • MeddyMeddy 516 replies35 threads Member
    IMHO High School kids are under way too much stress. There are healthy ways of dealing with stress and unhealthy ways. Sadly as a parent, we find out much too late when it is unhealthy. Why not have him see a counselor? This can be such great resource that will allow him to build a relationship with someone that may even be able to help him through college.

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  • bjscheelbjscheel 601 replies5 threads Member
    Your first post said he is having trouble falling asleep. Have you had him try melatonin?

    Even if his homework is keeping him up sort of late, maybe that would at least get him to sleep faster.
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  • blossomblossom 9962 replies9 threads Senior Member
    If he's overloaded with EC's that's where to start. They are all crucial to his well being? I find that hard to believe. Let him pick one- the one that means the most to him- and then get the rest of his life under control.

    I know adults who spread themselves too thin- they volunteer for every single thing in the community that someone asks of them, they take on extra stuff at work (plan the summer picnic? Run a bridal shower for someone getting married in addition to their regular paid jobs) and they are the family member who is planning the reunion for next summer and "doing" a huge Xmas. And they complain constantly that they don't have time for their friends, the gym, to read a book, or just make macaroni and cheese and hunker down in front of the TV for an evening. They're the ones who get the 8 am therapy appointment so they can be at work by 9:15.

    I don't know when it became such a mania to be so busy all the time. You can help your son's adult life NOW by letting him know that it's ok to feel overwhelmed, and that the best way to get his life under control is to actually get his life under control. If one meaningful EC isn't enough for him by January, he can add something else for second semester. But sleep is very important for an adolescent, and having him feel that you're in his court and will let him downshift is equally important.

    One class per semester on the "edge of too hard" as a freshman? That sounds healthy. A majority "edge of too hard"? That sounds like burnout to me.
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  • momofsenior1momofsenior1 7820 replies66 threads Senior Member
    A big shift from 8th grade to HS for my D was a huge surge in texting and messaging with her new friend group, especially in the evening. She played a Fall sport and needed every minute to do HW. With the phone constantly lighting up, it was a huge time suck and distraction. We instituted a homework at the kitchen table rule, as well as leaving the phone off. D also is the kind of kid who needs to have some down time to decompress right before bed if she is going to fall asleep. D ended up self regulating herself after a few month and her friends knew to not ask for her help with work after about 9 pm because she wouldn't respond anymore. She also went back to reading for pleasure for a bit before she'd turn the lights out. It was a process but she figured it out. Definitely a big adjustment on many levels.
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  • SJ2727SJ2727 1995 replies6 threads Senior Member
    And sometimes kids just don’t need that many honors classes, especially if they are “on the edge of too hard”.
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  • Groundwork2022Groundwork2022 2463 replies47 threads Senior Member
    DD did about 90 minutes of homework on a bad day in junior high. As a freshman, taking high level classes, it ramped to four hours a night. Plus she wanted to do every extracurricular that caught her fancy. It was a shock and a huge adjustment, not just for her, but for DH and I to see her suddenly working so much and so hard, and staying up so late. But you know what? She did just fine, made straight As and made a lot of new friends. Did I stop worrying? Not by much.

    I totally understand your concerns and where your stress is coming from. There is a lot to monitor: grades, sleep, nutrition, new friends. Caution your son to minimize screen time and caffeine an hour before bed to help him sleep.

    Some parents see their kid's grades slip, but just as common are the kids who are so run down that they're sick all of the time (and not faking it either). Rest assured, you'll know about serious problems when you see them. Until then, yes, it is an adjustment to a "new normal".
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  • compmomcompmom 10924 replies77 threads Senior Member
    edited October 12
    Does his high school start at 7:30am? Some high schools are finally listening and starting later.

    Is his sleep problem clearly stress-related? Academic stress? All I hear from our local school is that social media is causing stress.

    Are there any attention or learning issues that might need to be evaluated? Sometimes these aren't evident until high school.

    It's only October so hoping things get more comfortable.
    edited October 12
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  • PrdMomto1PrdMomto1 213 replies5 threads Junior Member
    Does he explain what happens when he can't fall asleep? Like is he feeling "stressed", is his mind racing, is he thinking about school, etc? My dd was crazy busy in high school and it was stressful for us all. However, one thing that helped was she tried to get her homework done as soon as possible. She NEEDED downtime before bed. On days she came home after school she did at least some of her homework right away. I know some kids need a break but she wanted to get it done. She did a lot of homework in the car on the way to and from practices - even when she could drive we sometimes drove her places just so she could use that time efficiently. It was rare that she was up late doing homework.

    What is his deal with cell phone use? Is he distracted a lot when doing homework? It's one thing if he picks it up and checks things quick and puts it back down. It's another if he gets distracted and wastes a lot of time. My daughter kept he phone with her when doing homework but kept it face down so she didn't see notifications. But she had lots of friends who had to put their phones away. And what about before bed? We made my daughter keep her phone downstairs when she went up for bed. Too many kids we knew ended up on their phones late into the night. Also, I know if I'm on electronics right before bed I sometimes have trouble falling asleep. Without his phone maybe his mind will have a chance to relax a bit. Maybe doing something like reading or listening to music for 15 minutes before bed would help?
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  • ruthstoopsruthstoops 51 replies20 threads Junior Member
    thank you all! my son is not a texting-social kid. He is very into his singing groups and seems to get songs in his head, which is what he says is hurting his sleep. I think it's more than that as he is struggling with the honors classes.
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  • scmom12scmom12 3130 replies21 threads Senior Member
    Are extra curricular all taking place at school? Are they graded classes (like art, chorus or band )? I would suggest talking about which ECs he can pause and pick up later. (Same advice to college freshmen- take a semester to get academics under control first). Can he step down to less commitment heavy versions of same activities for a time - for instance church/rec league basketball instead of school sport, community youth band instead of school, private art lessons that can be skipped during busy times, church choir instead of chorus, etc? Any ECs outside of school I would definitely put on hold for a semester. Sleep is more important.

    I would urge him to be proactive talking to teachers about classes he is stressing over and not waiting until he is struggling.
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  • ultimomultimom 156 replies2 threads Junior Member
    My kids both needed to pare down the extracurriculars to manage the academics at their challenging magnet high school. Both dropped the sport with long travel times so their time in the remaining sport was playing not driving. It might help to look at what is rewarding about the extracurriculars and figure out how to get that with a lower time commitment. This may not be the direction you take, but it is probably worth putting on the list of options to consider
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  • cshell2cshell2 726 replies10 threads Member
    My son went through a huge adjustment for high school. Up until 8th grade he attended a Montessori with no grading or homework and in 9th moved to a college prep school. BIG change! In fact, he wrote about it on his college applications this year to explain the GPA being lower that year and progressing up. We intentionally stayed away from any honors or AP classes the first couple years (in fact, I don't think that high school allows AP freshman year).

    I don't know if changing course selections is an option at this point, but I'd consider it if it was. Otherwise, cutting back on the EC's seems like an obvious choice. How many does he have and what are they?
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  • compmomcompmom 10924 replies77 threads Senior Member
    Well we toned down the academics and kept the extracurriculars, which got more focused as time went on. They got into the colleges they wanted (including an Ivy and an artsy LAC) most likely because of their extracurriculars. I still resent, many many years ago, being made to give up piano so I could get my homework done. I would have preferred less academic work and maybe some dance and art too. I was good at academics, unfortunately, because I hated school.
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  • TherealAPqueenTherealAPqueen 31 replies2 threads Junior Member
    This might be normal. I mean I am a freshman and am totally stressed out. Like all the time. I routinely go to bed at 1 am too. However, I do take 5 AP classes.
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  • DigitalDadDigitalDad 52 replies1 threads Junior Member
    Looking back, I now realize that it was better for High School to have been the "Trial by Fire", where we could still monitor things at home and could have worked out any kinks, rather making the adjustment to college to be the "difficult" one, where the parents would be very much out of the loop.
    Nevertheless, trouble falling asleep certainly needs to be watched to see if things "settle" eventually. My daughter "uncoupled" from our academic supervision the moment she entered HS. Fortunately she managed very well independently - so I did step back (other than monitoring the school parent portal very, very tightly.)
    However, I am still shocked on HOW late almost every night was for her for the entire 4 years. Still, she opted to attend "Zero Period" chorus and orchestra sessions, starting the school day early for 4 days a week - and often staying after school for theatre rehearsals. (Sometimes I joked that this was just her way of geeting me to WANT to buy her a car by Senior year, rather than continuing shuttling her.) Given those long waking hours and the persistent sleep-deprevation, there never were problems falling asleep.
    I can't imagine this could possibly be healthy or how all these kids are able to function. Of course, it means that adjusting to a (much more relaxed) college schedule was a breeze, and they certainly had honed their time-management skills by then.
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  • Jensmom27Jensmom27 26 replies2 threads Junior Member
    A high school student not getting enough sleep is a tough one to manage as a parent, and certainly is tough for the child. I can sympathize. We had a lot of talks about sleep when my DD was in high school. I was torn between letting her find independence and manage her own life and time as much as possible, but was also aware that she still needed guidance and wasn't always able to make the best decisions for herself yet.

    The adolescent brain undergoes a massive amount of growth and change during the high school years. The prefrontal cortex continues to have numerous changes at this time. These changes impact the development of impulse control and streamline and refine executive function, along with many other functions. Good sleep hygiene is extremely important and the lack of it could have long term effects, if the lack of sleep is ongoing. 9-10 hours of sleep is recommended for this age group. Many, many of the kids at my DD's high performing school did not come even close to being able to get this most nights. I am of the opinion that this lack of sleep during these crucial brain development years is partially responsible for the ever rising crisis of depression and anxiety among students who may also be totally stressed out and constantly busy. This year children at high performing schools were put in the category of "at risk" along with other groups, including kids living in poverty and foster care, recent immigrants and those with incarcerated parents. Our children are paying the price for all of this cortisol running through them, and it is up to us as parents and as a society, to help bring those levels down. Easier said than done, I know.

    For what it's worth, DD is now a sophomore in college and last month told me on the phone that she almost always gets 8 hours per night now, as she has found she cannot function optimally without that. Hearing that almost makes all of those talks in the past worth it! I would try to get to the bottom of why they aren't sleeping enough, and do whatever is in your power to help them figure it out.
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