Freshman year is hard second time around, too

April 04, 1999|By Susan Reimer

WE HAVE PASSED the midpoint of high school's freshman year in my house, and all of us are still standing, although we are not always speaking, and I thought I would take this opportunity to share my hard-won wisdom.

Take it from me. Freshman year is harder than you remember it to be.

Especially from this end -- the parental end.

I am not sure how to describe it, except to say your child's freshman year of high school is a lot like being trapped in a bad marriage: Neither of you is going anywhere, and that only serves to make matters worse.

But if there is one simple rule that will get you through your child's freshman year, it is this: Don't say anything!

It works for me.

Freshmen are the lowest of the low in the high school hierarchy, and upperclassmen are more than willing to point that out to them.

After eighth grade, where they were big fish in a little pond, ninth-graders find themselves in a huge building with hundreds more kids, most of whom are taller, stronger, have deeper voices or larger breasts than they do. They feel as if they are on the JV team of life and in danger of being cut.

Just finding their way to class is as much as most freshmen can do until late December. Don't make it any tougher on them by asking questions or making demands. Even innocent queries or simple requests will send high school freshmen over the edge.

For example:

Do not ask if they have homework tonight. They do. A lot of it. More than they ever had before and they don't know where to begin and they didn't have the nerve to ask questions in class and they are sure they will never get it all done and it will be wrong anyway.

Don't ask about their day. It was awful. Full of blighted expectations, personal humiliations and long minutes of pure hopelessness. The last thing they want to do is relive it by telling you about it.

Don't ask if they are hungry. Of course they are. They are starved. They hate the cafeteria food, which, in any case, sticks like a wine cork in their nervous throats. Just put food in front of them without comment and snatch your hand back quickly.

Do not allow yourself to be overheard talking to another adult about them. You will be pouring gasoline on the bonfire of their vanity, and the explosion will singe your eyebrows.

Do not fuss at them with loving touches or tender words unless they crawl into your embrace, tearful or defeated. They will let you know when they need your TLC. Any other time, it will make them feel as though their skin is on fire.

Don't ask them how they are doing in their chosen sport. They are sure they are the worst on the team and in danger of physical humiliation at any moment.

If you want to know how they are doing, go watch the games. But do nothing that calls attention to yourself -- such as cheering -- or that reveals to others that you are their parent.

There are a couple of things that you can do that will make freshman year easier on both of you.

Be willing to go out into the night at a moment's notice to buy a critical piece of athletic equipment or a marble composition book or to retrieve another student's copy of "Tale of Two Cities." Do this without showing any signs of annoyance.

And be available. You never know when a high school freshman will decide to talk. Neither does he. Be there in case it happens.

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