How to make high school “The Best Years of Your Life”

This week, my son is being promoted from middle school. So, I’d like to share some advice for him and everyone else who is making the leap to high school.

Watch enough TV and movies, and you believe that high school is supposed to be “The Best Years of Your Life.” That’s a lot of pressure, especially since middle school is usually “The Crappiest Years of Your Life.” High school doesn’t involve high energy dance numbers about “being true to your dreams” that inspire you to score the winning touchdown, fall in love with the school nerd who became the head cheerleader thanks to her stereotypically fashionable and/or sassy friend, and achieve your goal of becoming prom king. But you can have a great high school experience, make life-long friends, and lay the foundation for a successful adulthood where the real “best years of your life” take place. Here’s how.

Get involved in something

It can be a sport, a school program, a campus organization, or yes, the glee club. Whatever catches your interest, get involved in it. Participating in an activity is a great way for you to make your mark at school, meet new friends, and even start a career. For example, in my senior year at Reseda High School, I joined the campus newspaper, the Regent Review. There, I learned about page layout and design, typography, and the publication process — skills I continue to use today as a technical writer and author.

Make friends with your teachers

Teachers these days have to deal with enough. They are under constant threat of losing their jobs. Their salaries keep getting cut while they have to dip into their own pockets to pay for needed classroom supplies. Meanwhile, they face constant criticism from politicians, pundits, and parents. Cut your teachers some slack. You will discover that they can be valuable mentors, and they can help you discover and develop talents you didn’t know you had. I’m grateful to the teachers who made a difference in my life. Look for the teachers who will make a difference in your life and learn from them.

Learn the essentials

If you think what you’re learning in school is boring and won’t have any relevance in “the real world,” you’re wrong. Everything you learn in school is important and will be needed at some point in your life. Try buying flooring for a room if you don’t know geometry, or maintaining a pool if you don’t know chemistry, or planning a trip if you don’t know geography. You won’t be able to make sense of events that affect your life without knowing about government and history. You won’t be able to hold a job if you don’t develop proper language and writing skills. Pay attention in class because the things you learn really are very important.

Push yourself

Take the harder class if you think you can pass it. Try out for a sport if you think you can make the team. Ask out the girl if you think she likes you. Even if you fail, you’ll still learn something from the experience. What is worse than failure is regret — the “if only…” that will nag at you for the rest of your life. Furthermore, you won’t be able to survive today’s economy by gliding along the easy path. The only way you can survive in a career, let alone move ahead, is by getting in the habit of pushing yourself to learn new skills and work harder to meet challenging goals. Start developing that habit in high school.

Fit in, but don’t follow blindly

There’s nothing wrong with fitting in. It’s a valuable social skill, and it can help you discover who you are. Be careful in deciding where you want to fit in and don’t just blindly follow what the rest of the group does. If you find them pushing you to do something illegal or self-destructive (usually so you can take the fall while they get away with it), refuse and get out of the group.

Don’t do stupid stuff

Don’t drink alcohol. Don’t smoke. Don’t do drugs. Don’t drive while texting, or drunk, or stoned, or distracted. Don’t cheat. Don’t plagiarize. Don’t get involved with gangs. Don’t shoplift. Don’t commit fraud. Don’t hook up with strangers. Don’t have unprotected sex. One stupid mistake can destroy your entire life just as it’s beginning.

Talk with your parents

The TV shows and movies that glorify high school leave out all the things that make it difficult — the insecurities, the humiliations, and the heartbreaks. Your friends may be able to help or at least comfort you, but they are just as lost as you are. There is one source of advice, comfort, and support you can always depend on — your parents. Remember that your parents were once teenagers and went through the same difficulties as you. Don’t hesitate to talk to them if you have a problem and listen to the advice they give you. If you don’t have parents who can support you, talk to an adult relative, your teacher, your religious leader, or some other adult you trust. Adults have the perspective and experience that can help you. You don’t have to go through high school alone.