Tell me more: 8 questions to ask your high school freshman

Kara Powell Image Kara Powell | Sep 24, 2019

Photo by Sirotorn Sumpunkulpak

Know someone navigating a new parenting phase this fall? Share this list (consider pairing it with a coffee gift card!) to help family and friends grow together as their kids grow up. And join us for more great conversation starters from our Tell me more blog post series:

All three of our kids went to the same school from kindergarten through eighth grade. We had nine great years with the same kids and families through elementary and middle school.

Which made the process of making new friends in ninth grade especially jarring … for me.

Our kids did just fine.

I was the one riddled with anxiety and insecurity. Especially with Nathan, our oldest. When I picked him up those first few late August days at his new high school, I was eager to hear who he had lunch with, who he sat next to in class, and who he thought might become a real friend.

Truth be told, I was far too eager.

While I didn’t realize it then, I was vicariously re-living my own teenage hunger to be accepted and validated through my ninth grader. Subconsciously, I hoped that if Nathan received a stamp of approval from the popular kids, that would somehow reverberate three decades into my past and make my teenage self feel more welcomed and valued.

It mattered far more to me than to Nathan how his friendships were unfolding. As a result, I asked him question after question about his new friends. And hardly anything about his new teachers, extracurricular activities, and anxieties.

I don’t think I’m the only parent tempted to relive their own adolescent fears when their kid approaches a new phase. The danger is, by magnifying one part of our child’s experience, we run the risk of missing the rest.

There are all sorts of ways we might struggle to talk with our kids as they navigate the freshman experience. To help you nurture conversations that grow with both of you, we want to give you eight key questions to spark great dialogue with your ninth grader.

Tweet: There are all sorts of ways we might struggle to talk with our kids as they enter high school. Nurture conversations that grow with these 8 key questions

How to use these questions

Please don’t ask all these questions at once.

Please don’t robotically repeat them at the same time (e.g., at every breakfast, or every ride home from school, or at every dinner).

Instead, look for the right times, the right places, and most importantly, the right mood to raise them—one at a time—over the next few months. That probably means a variety of times and places. In fact, you could inject these questions into a conversation you’re already having to help the discussion go deeper. If your child is talking about tension with a friend, that’s your springboard to ask a few deeper questions about friendship. If they seemed stressed about school, that’s your open door to talk about homework anxiety and an academic plan.

So, look for creative and organic opportunities to prompt the following eight conversations this year.

8 conversations starters

1. When it comes to your classes, what (if anything) are you anxious about? How can I best support you to help you get the time and focus you need to accomplish your goals?
2. What did you learn about friendship in middle school? How does that affect the type of friendships you hope to develop in this next season?
3. Now that you’re in high school, what sort of new independence and freedom might you like to try? How can you, in partnership with our family, determine whether you’re ready for that?
4. What do you like about how we communicate as a family? What do you wish was different? How do you think you might better communicate with the rest of us?
5. What are your gifts, talents, and passions? How would you like to try these out in extracurricular activities and leadership roles in the next few years?
6. Who are a few adults that you’d like to spend more time with? What do you like about them, and what might you want to learn from them?
7. What new struggles might pop up for you in high school? Who is someone older than you that you can talk with about those temptations? How can I help?
8. What helps your relationship with God grow the most these days? How can we make sure you get plenty of time to explore those connections with God at church and elsewhere?

Be ready to share your own answers to these questions, both for when you were in high school and perhaps even now—especially for the last questions about your own faith growth. While you may have to resist the urge to begin with “When I was your age,” let your child peek behind your faith curtain to understand why it’s so important to you to attend your weekly small group, go on your evening run, or spend time gardening and praying on Saturday mornings.

Your high schooler is ready to see you not just as a parent but as a person. Open, authentic conversations in which you both ask and answer questions will help you make that shift.

Tweet: Parents, are you navigating high school for the first time (again) this fall? Here are 8 questions to spark great dialogue with your new freshman

Download the questions

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Kara Powell Image
Kara Powell

Kara Powell, PhD, is the chief of leadership formation and executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI) at Fuller Theological Seminary. Named by Christianity Today as one of "50 Women to Watch," Kara serves as a youth and family strategist for Orange and speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara has authored or coauthored numerous books, including Faith Beyond Youth Group, 3 Big Questions That Shape Your Future, 3 Big Questions That Change Every Teenager, Growing With, Growing Young, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family and the entire Sticky Faith series. Kara and her husband, Dave, are regularly inspired by the learning and laughter that comes from their three teenage and young adult children.

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