Helping Teens Adjust to a New High School

Four teen girls walking together at school
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Although moving to a new city might feel like a disaster to a teen, starting a new school can be a positive experience. That doesn't mean your teen won't struggle to adjust, however. Switching peer groups, adjusting to a new academic schedule, and leaving behind old friends can be very hard for adolescents. And it’s not just about social expectations—a new school can also cause challenges in academic and extracurricular areas.

While some teens will thrive with a fresh start, immediately jumping into activities and making friends, others won’t succeed immediately. Some of them may feel lost for a bit, both academically and socially. If you're changing to a new school system, use these strategies to help your teen adjust to a new school. 

Keep a Positive Attitude 

The adjustment period begins before your teen ever steps foot into the new school. Your teen will probably have a dismal outlook from the start, so the responsibility rests on you to talk up the new school.

Point out the new opportunities that'll be available, whether it’s a great theater program or the opportunity to take advanced-level science courses. If you’re not thrilled about the move either, it’s OK to share that you have concerns. But make it clear that you’re going to choose to look on the bright side and show your teen that you’re determined to make the best of the situation.

If you have confidence that you can make it a new city or a new job, your teen will feel more confident about their ability to succeed in a new school.

Listen to Your Teen’s Concerns

Acknowledge that change can be hard. Validate your teen's feelings by saying you know it will be hard for them to leave their school and friends. Avoid minimizing your teen's distress by saying things like, "Oh, you'll make new friends right away so don't worry about it," or "It's not a big deal. I changed schools all the time."

Instead, say things like, "I know you love being in the band here and being in the band in your next school won't be the same," or "I understand you're worried about being able to stay in touch with your friends."

Your teen might not express their feelings with words but you might see some changes in behavior that indicate they are stressed out. They might lash out with anger, but that could be a cover for how they are really feeling. Keep asking questions about their biggest concerns.

Are they worried about new teachers? Do they doubt their ability to make the basketball team? It could even be something small like using a locker for the first time if their previous school didn’t have them.

Offer a balanced outlook by acknowledging the challenges of moving, but also recognizing that a new school may offer exciting new opportunities.

Talk About Your Reasons for Moving

Be honest and upfront with your teen about why you're moving to a new city or switching schools. If you're relocating for a better career opportunity, moving so you can be closer to family, or you need to find a new house because you can't afford to stay where you are, talk about it.

Discuss the values that went into your decision. Make sure your teen knows that you aren't moving just to make his life miserable and you aren't switching schools because you don't care about their feelings. Instead, explain that you do care about feelings, but ultimately, it's up to you to make the best choice for the family. And even if they aren't on board with the decision, it's happening anyway.

Show your teen that you have confidence that everyone in the family can adjust to your new circumstances and that with hard work and a good attitude, you can create a happy life in a new home, city, and/or school. 

Learn About the New School

Quite often, anxiety stems from not knowing what to expect. If your teen can gain a clear understanding of what their new school is going to be like, they may have a more positive attitude about making the move.

Conduct as much research as possible about the new school before your teen starts attending. Get them involved in finding out about the size of the school, the types of classes offered, and what extra-curricular opportunities are available. Most schools have websites that offer a wealth of information. Talking to a guidance counselor or coach ahead of time can also be helpful. If possible, arrange for your teen to have a tour of the school too.

If at all possible, help your teen meet some students from the new school before their first day. Seeing a familiar face or two when they are the new kid can go a long way to helping them settle in.

Encourage a Fresh Start

If your teen attended the same elementary and middle school, then their personality, activities and the like are pretty ingrained in the brains of their peers. After all, once you’ve been pegged as a peppy cheerleader or someone who is bad at math, it’s hard to break out of that rut when you're surrounded by the peers who watched you grow up.

Remind your teen that, at their new school, no one has any preconceived notions about who they are. Therefore, if they want to change up their activities, style, or any other facet of their being, they can do it now without any questions.

Explain that a fresh start can help people become an even better version of themselves. Your teen can create positive change for their life and befriend the type of people they want to have in a new phase of their life.

Facilitate Making New Friends

It can be hard to make new friends in high school, especially if you’re moving in the middle of the year. It can be especially difficult if your teen tends to be a bit shy. Help your teen create a plan for meeting new people and making friends. Joining a club or playing a sport can be a great way for your teen to socialize.

Talk to your teen about what types of extra-curricular activities they are interested in joining. Then, talk to the school about how to make that happen if the school year is already underway.

Encourage Maintaining Old Friendships

The digital age makes it easier than ever for your teen to stay in touch with old friends. Even if you're moving across the country, social media and cellphones will allow your teen to chat with their old pals regularly.

If your teen switched schools in the same area, encourage them to invite over both old and new friends and make your home a space where they can entertain easily. Talk about introducing friends to one another and make it clear that they don’t have to pick between friends at the old school and friends at the new school.

Sometimes, teens feel disloyal if they make new friends or they worry that their old friends will forget about them if they don’t stay in constant contact.

Talk openly about your teen’s concerns and discuss strategies for maintaining a healthy social life. 

Watch Out for Academic Problems

High school can be academically challenging. And when your teen switches schools midway through their academic career, there are a lot of adjustments to be made.

Perhaps Spanish II in this school is more like Spanish III in the previous school, and your teen can’t keep up with the teacher. Or maybe your teen never learned algebra the way the new school teaches it. Even differences in scheduling (such as block scheduling versus traditional) can pose difficulties.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to your teen’s teachers to ask how they are doing in class and how you can help make the academic adjustment easier.

Don’t Let the Move Be an Excuse

Your teen may be tempted to say the move has caused failing grades or bad behavior, but don’t let the transition be an excuse. Life is full of transitions. Someday, your teen will likely need to adjust to a new job, a new home, a new boss, and living with a partner. Changing schools can be a good practice for embracing change.

As a parent, let go of the guilt you carry for uprooting your teenager. You wouldn’t have made the switch if it wasn’t in the best interest of your family, and harboring guilt just keeps you all from moving forward.

Seek Help if Necessary

If your teen is having a particularly tough time adjusting to a new high school, seek professional help. If your teen isn’t making friends or starts struggling academically, they may be at a higher risk of mental health problems or substance abuse issues.

Talk to your child’s pediatrician to request a referral to a therapist. Or, speak to the school’s guidance counselor. The school may offer services that can help. 

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Nemours TeensHealth. The moving blues (for teens).

  2. Nemours TeensHealth. Family money troubles.

  3. McCarthy C. Anxiety in teens is rising: What's going on?. American Academy of Pediatrics.

  4. American Academy of Pediatrics. Making friends in high school.

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.