Advice to Graduating Eighth Graders for High School Success

This is the time of year when graduates, especially high school and college graduates, hear lots of advice on being successful in the next phase of their life. As a licensed counselor who works with high school students, I think it’s time for some advice for the eighth graders who are going to begin one of the most important phases: High School.

High School: It’s not as hard as you think it will be.

You have probably heard by now from lots of people: High school is hard. Your 8th grade teachers have been telling you this all year. The good news is that it probably won’t be nearly as hard as you imagine. If you have done a pretty good job of being successful in 8th grade, then you will do fine in 9th grade.

It’s not that those people who have been warning you about high school are wrong or mean. I think we adults want to prepare you for what is coming up by warning you how hard it will be. But sometimes it backfires. When we adults tell you how hard it’s going to be, many students end up feeling hopeless and overwhelmed before high school even begins. High school is hard, but not that hard.

Your parents don’t know what’s best for you.

This is no news to you, I assume. But as a dad of an eighth grader going into high school, let me explain. You parents know what is good for you, but they don’t know what is best for you. How could they? Although they know you quite well, they know very little of how you have changed in the past few years unless you have shared it with them. If you are an average teen, you probably haven’t shared much with them.

Only you know what is best for you. Your parents know what is good for you. They know the basics, but their advice is based on keeping you safe. They don’t know how much you really enjoy a certain sport, or music, or how important your friends are to you. Keep telling them. You parents can do a lot to help keep you from failing. But they can do very little to help you succeed and excel. Success…greatness…is up to you.

Ask for help.

You will not get far in life alone. If you think success means going it alone, you will have a hard time being successful. Asking for help does not mean you are lacking in something, it means you want to succeed in something.

I recently worked with a teenager who came to see me because her anxieties were getting in the way of her doing well in school. Her worries about success were making her exhausted. When she told a friend about working with me, her friend asked, “Don’t you feel bad that you can’t solve this on your own?” My client said to her, “Why would I feel bad? If there are people out there that can teach me something, I am going to learn. If I don’t, then I’ll be stuck.”

If you don’t understand something, ask for help. When a teacher asks, “Are there any questions?” raise your hand. I would say don’t worry about the other students, but that’s too hard. Just don’t let the worry stop you from asking for help. Yes, it might be embarrassing, but don’t let those feelings get in the way of asking for help.

You are more important than your friends.

I won’t get into the concepts of peer pressure. I am as tired talking about peer pressure as you are of hearing about it. I am talking about something a bit different. If someone is asking you to do something that you know will decrease you as a person, or will lower your standards of who you are, you are putting them in front of you. Doing this will not be good for you and won’t be good for your friend.

For example, your friend wants to talk at all hours, whenever she is upset about something. It’s getting to the point where you are missing sleep and feeling used. If you keep it up, your friend might lose respect for you since you are available to her any time. Plus, you will begin to feel resentful (and tired). When a friend is asking something from you, ask yourself “Is this something I can do without lowering who I am?”

Don’t be a jerk.

You probably know what I mean by this one, so I won’t spend too much time on it. High school is full of chances to be mean, nasty, spiteful, and hurtful. Avoid the temptation. And you will be tempted.

People will remember.

Let me sum up what Maya Angelou, a very cool poet, said about this: People will forget what you said and what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. You will be surprised at how your actions in high school will have an impact on people’s lives. How do you want them to remember you twenty five years from now? If you have treated them well, they will remember that. If you treated them poorly, I promise you that they will remember it.

Don’t get good grades to benefit your future.

Sounds like a bad advice, right? Let me explain. I think there is too much focus, during the high school years, on the future. Get good grades now so that you will be able to go to a good college. Do well in college so that you will be able to get a good job. Get a good job so that you will be able to feel successful in life. At a minimum, that first job is eight years from now!
Instead, why not do well now because it feels good to do well? Do well now because you want to be successful in life NOW. Don’t worry so much about the future. Focus on the present. Focus on how it feels to show up to class with homework completed. Focus on how it feels to get good grades on tests because you studied. Focus on your present success and the future will take care of itself.

You are more mature and thoughtful than most adults will ever understand.

The biggest compliment I receive from middle and high school students is when they tell me that I really “get them.” I think they mean that I have taken the time to understand them as a person and don’t dismiss their thoughts and feelings.

For many adults, this is quite difficult to do. Your parents, especially, will want to think of you as a little kid with little ideas. Don’t be surprised if your parents call your first steady date “your little girl/boyfriend.” They don’t mean to be insulting. They just haven’t gotten used to the fact that you are becoming an adult. Be patient with them. If you are the oldest in the family, you have even more work to do. Just don’t take it personally when you feel demeaned or belittled by adults. They don’t yet understand how complex and mature you have become.