Do you remember starting high school? Think Back on your youthful self, prepping for that first day – I can see myself in a navy tunic and white blouse, trying to decide if it would become cold enough for my new jacket. If it ended up being too warm for a jacket, I would look ridiculous. The idea of looking ridiculous terrified me! The trip to my school involved travelling one and a half hours each day from the little town where I lived to an east end Montreal high school.
Tomorrow about 750,000 young Canadians will start high school. There will be clothes-checking, journey-planning and, if the research is correct, more anxiety than most will have experienced in their lives so far.

What will they be anxious about?

I’ll bet most adults think that social worries, such as not having friends, will be most teens’ worst worry, but, in fact, that is second after the fear of not doing well – good news for parents, teachers and all of the rest of us who depend on these young people being successful enough to support us and our communities in the future. Teens worried about not doing well can be reminded that 94% of youth in Canada complete high school. You can also tell that youth how happy you are to learn that school is so important that they want to do well. It shows that they are accepting their responsibility and no parent or teacher can expect more than that from a student.

Worries about having friends and all those social worries come next. Whenever these worries surface, the best reassurance can come from the network a youth already has. The network of the family and friends a youth starts high school with does not disappear. Remind them that all the people who already care about them is evidence that others will too. If you made friends with your goofy, annoying little sister and the friendly, pink-haired tenth grader down the street, you can make friends with other people too.

Finally, it’s surprising how many students starting high school worry about the future – will they finish, get the apprenticeship they want, go to college, get a good job?

Don’t you remember thinking at the beginning of high school,” All I want in life is now up to me”? That is what is going through most teens’ minds on the first morning of high school. This is a good time to look at those first day of school pictures from all the other grades. They are a good reminder of the years successfully completed so far.

The best predictor of future success is past success and your teen starting high school can take comfort from the statistics, and so can you. But if warm, fuzzy statistics and mathematics don’t comfort you, you can always try great literature.

The influence of literature can really take hold in high school. I have loved reading all my life, but books changed my life in adolescence. Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5 was published the year I started high school. I still reflect on it today and it was from Vonnegut that I found the quote about high school that provides the most comfort to everyone I talk to who is terrified about high school:

“The true terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country.”


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