When a teenager is in the room with you, whether it be at the doctor, teacher, tutor, psychologist or wherever, include them in the conversation. I know this sounds simple, but it’s one of the most common mistakes I see. Too often, parents will talk about their teen (who is sitting next to them and in the same room) like they aren’t present. Including teenagers in conversations within the decision-making process establishes ownership and increases the odds of a teenager’s buy-in with the final outcome, even when that outcome is not what the teenager would choose for themselves.

Let’s take, for example, considering moving to a new school for a fresh start. Many times, the dialogue surrounding the potential move is had by everyone except the teen. Including your teen in the pros-and-cons-party is key. This does not mean parents must get their teen’s blessing or permission prior to making an educational change. In fact, sometimes, teens cannot see what is best for them in the midst of a downward spiral. Even if, at some level, the teen knows a change is needed, often they cannot communicate that internal whisper into a well-articulated statement. So, they end up crying for help via poor grades, a sour attitude or total isolationism.

Here are talking points for a family considering a school move:

  • What are the academic benefits of remaining at the current school site?
  • What are the academic advantages of moving to the proposed school?
  • What behaviors indicate the current school site isn’t working?
  • What assumptions exist that those behaviors will shift in a new setting?
  • What advice would you give someone else in your situation about the school move?
  • What are your biggest fears about making a school move?
  • What are your biggest fears about remaining at the current school?
  • Are there solutions, tools or resources that can address these?
  • How would the move impact them socially?
  • How might it affect them academically?

Look below the surface: These types questions will help you sort out the true underlying issue. School moves have a time and place. In fact, my parents moved me after a continued downward social and academic spiral, allowing for a fresh start in 7th grade. However, what my parents missed then, and parents miss all the time, was the opportunity to debrief and dig-in to discover what, if any, social-emotional ramifications exist under the surface. Sometimes the school is the core issue, and many times, it’s not.

Not always the answer: As parents, we want to save our children, that is our job. And one way to save someone is to remove them from a harmful situation. However, with schools, the DNA that creates vulnerable and trying times for adolescents are eerily similar from school to school. Yes, one can debate public and private, or big and small and so on. But the core social dynamics and interpersonal and emotional landmines can be based on the specific child, and how they are prepared, conditioned, and supported during those awkward and challenging times--and having little to do with their physical location. A hasty school move can just be kicking the can down the road. 

Details to consider when vetting a potential school move:

Impact on GPA: Grade weighting varies by school district. One may issue a “grade bump” for an honors course, while another may not. This means GPAs are recalculated when the student enters the new district. A student exiting a district who issues “grade bumps” may see their GPA drop based on the absence of the bump in the new district.

Impact on current class schedule: Not all high schools (even within the same district) offer the same courses. It’s important to understand what classes will be available when moving. Cetain college requirements work in years, not semesters. For example, let’s say your teen is taking an AP European History course, has completed a semester, and then transfers to a school without that course offering. Your teen will need to complete the second half of that course somewhere, on their own time, to finish that full year of history to satisfy college requirements. One half of one history class and one half of another history course will not work.

Impact on athletic participation: Sanctioned high school athletics are monitored by third-party organizations. Those organizations have rules and safeguards in place for transfers—largely to prevent students from moving solely for athletic reasons. When your student moves schools, pay attention to those rules and work within them to maintain athletic eligibility. In fact, many cap the number of transfers allowed in a high school career, and too many transfers result in a red-flag and result in ineligibility. In short, conduct due diligence.

Impact on family logistics: How will the new school affect others in the family and their routines. Understanding the family dominos is vital. For example, if you are making a huge accommodation by transferring one of your children to a school that will result in every other member of the family assuming a new routine, brace for impact. Kids are creatures of habit. Frontloading other family members and drawing them into the conversation will help smooth the path. It’s important for families to make sacrifices for the greater good, but siblings should be educated about how they may be impacted in the spirit of helping others in the family.  

As the saying goes, nothing changes if nothing changes. Perhaps a new school is the answer and warranted. Many times, I’ve seen a school lead to a huge, positive transformation in teenagers. My advice for heading into the process is to avoid overemphasizing the temporary solution that may exist in the form of a new start and place greater emphasis on the deeper issues behind the struggle itself.