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Success in High School Is Up to You

Yup. It’s September. Most teens have been back in school for a few weeks already. Many have made promises that this year will be different. This year will be more successful and less stressed. If you are one of the millions who’ve made such a promise, maybe a few tips from the experts will help you think about how to succeed.

Set a goal: It’s not too early to think about what you want to do in the future. You are laying the foundation for it now. 

If you want to enter the trades, find out what you need to do to prepare yourself. Unfortunately, many high schools have all but eliminated classes in trades like auto mechanics and carpentry, but you can still get some experience. Think about getting a part time job that will help you decide if such work is for you. Visit local trade schools to explore what they offer and what they expect of applicants. 

If you think you want to go to college, ask yourself why. Then sit down with your parents to talk about what you need to do to get there academically and financially. Do remember that it isn’t necessary to go to an elite college to prepare yourself for a career that requires a degree. There are lots of excellent schools out there besides the Ivy Leagues. 

Undecided about your direction? Talk to your school guidance program about gap year options that will give you new and different experiences before committing to a career path. Making a plan for what happens after graduation will give you focus and will reduce your stress.

Resist peer pressure: This is a tough one. Peer pressure can actually work positively or negatively. On the positive side, wanting to fit in with your friends can influence you to get involved with a sport or a political cause or to do your best on a term paper. But that same desire to be accepted can influence you to blow off school work or to get involved with risky behaviors you know aren’t really a good idea. Yes, you want to have fun. But learning how to be true to yourself and to make the choices that make sense for your long term goals is part of becoming an adult.

Get Enough Sleep: You. Need. Sleep. And plenty of it. According to the National Sleep Foundation, teens need between 8 – 10 hours of sleep a night. Yes. That’s right. 8 – 10 hours. 87% of American high school students are chronically sleep-deprived. In fact, 20% of kids are trying to get by on only 5 hours a night?  

Just because most teens in the U.S. are walking around chronically exhausted doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. The consequences are huge. It has a negative effect on both your physical health and your mental functioning and well-being. A sleepy brain has a harder time learning. Concentration and memory are affected. You are more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression and even suicidal thinking. If you are an athlete, sleep deprivation affects sports performance and increases your risk of injury. An occasional short night probably won’t hurt but if it becomes more than occasional, reset your schedule so your body and mind get the restorative sleep needed to succeed.

Control your Screen time: A 2018 report from the Pew Research Center states that 9 out of 10 teens think that the amount of time they spend on screens (cell phones, tablets, computers, TVs) is a problem. 45% of teens now say they are online on a near-constant basis. Yes, screens seem to be here to stay. But how you use them is up to you. 

On the positive side, smart phones and computers help you stay in touch with friends and family. It puts information about almost anything at your fingertips. Staying current with the news and doing research for your school papers is easy. Cellphones also can help you stay safe.

On the down side, excessive use has been found to lower self-esteem and to increase teen depression, anxiety and loneliness, and to foster poor body image. Social media platforms can also be used to bully. Anxiety about who is saying what about you and others can drive you to obsessively check and check and check. Clicking from one YouTube to another or scrolling endlessly through FaceBook and Snapchat can suck up your time and your life. Don’t let devices control you and get in the way of your academic success.

Limit Gaming: Yes, gaming can be fun. It can lead to an increase in creativity and problem-solving skills. Gaming with friends can increase, not decrease, your social life. But if you are giving up sleep and losing your ability to control how much time you spend on the latest version of the latest game, you are also giving up your chances of academic, and social, success. Why? Because gaming can take over your time and your life. Whether you are in fact “addicted” or you just like to spend hours a day in game, the results can be reduced concentration, difficulties with memory, failure to do important school assignments, and isolation from real time friends and family. 

Balance work and play: Total focus on academics can lead to isolation, loneliness, anxiety, and depression. On the other hand, spreading your focus among classes, a sport, two extra-curricular activities, a part time job, and partying on weekends can lead to enormous stress and an increase in risk for mental health problems. Withdrawing from the stress by withdrawing to your bedroom can deprive you of the fun and meaningful experiences that the high school years can offer.

The trick is to find a balance. Yes, do well in your studies. But also think hard about whether you are over-scheduled or under-involved. How you live really is your choice. Make sure you make time for your studies but also for friendships and fun. Make an active decision about how you will spend your time and your life.

Success in High School Is Up to You


Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D.

Marie Hartwell-WalkerDr. Marie Hartwell-Walker is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. She writes regularly for Psych Central as well as Psych Central's Ask the Therapist feature. She is author of the insightful parenting e-book, Tending the Family Heart.

Check out her book, Unlocking the Secrets of Self-Esteem.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2019). Success in High School Is Up to You. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 16, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/success-in-high-school-is-up-to-you/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 16 Sep 2019
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 16 Sep 2019
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.