It’s funny how the same truths are relevant year after year. I wrote this four years ago, when those of you who have high school kids now had kids who were in junior high or elementary. I think you’ll find it somehow oddly encouraging that “there’s nothing new under the sun,” that kids are kids, and that your kids aren’t different from those who went before. My daughter was a sophomore four years ago, and she and her classmates are now enjoying brilliant careers at colleges and universities like Yale, the University of Chicago, Texas, Texas A & M, Baylor, the Air Force Academy, and many others. Hang in there, trust the process, and trust in the Lord who is “beginning a good work in them, and will be faithful to complete it. “ Phil. 1:6. None of this is taking the Lord by surprise, even if it’s your first time. 

When you work here, and work in education for 13 years, you see a few things. When you have your own kids go all the way through, you see a few more.  There are some phenomena so pervasive in kids as they mature and move through the school-aged years that they warrant their own description. One is “junior high boy syndrome”- that season in the normal development of many junior high boys when it seems as though their brains have switched into “hibernate” mode.  They come out of it, but when they’re in it, you think that you’re the only parent who is experiencing it, and that it will never end. Then, one day, it does, and it’s good again.

Another of those phenomena is “the Sophomore Slump”. The Slump is not universal, some kids just breeze on through 10th grade with no problem.  But, it’s common. The Slump is evident with boys and girls: academically with both, socially, more with girls (although boys aren’t immune).  I’m not sure exactly why it is: the newness of high school has worn off; some of the “safety nets” available to freshmen are removed intentionally in order to help move students to a greater state of self-reliance; we as parents begin hearing the footsteps of college approaching; kids who have been close friends since kindergarten begin growing apart as they mature, their personalities develop, and they begin being deeply involved in different activities; students mature at different rates than others, with some getting into very adult things while others are still kids at heart;  they’re a year away from driving, from stretching their wings and getting more freedom; girls, particularly, are sometimes mean or catty to each other (it’s remarkable how this tends to terminate by the beginning of their junior year, as if some switch gets flicked off over the summer).   All of these may be contributing factors, but they all seem to come together in the perfect storm in 10th grade.

It often results in the Great Sophomore Shuffle, as sophomores leave one school to try another.  I’m not saying that there aren’t legitimate reasons to leave; there often are. Desiring a Christian education for one’s children, for example, may be a good one. But, judging from the fact that I see more sophomores leave Grace, while at the same time watching them come to Grace, tells me that this is a time-in-life phenomenon, rather than one unique to our school, or any other school.

So, as I’ve been praying through it and watched it happen over the years, here are some things I think I’m learning:

  • This is normal.  If your kid is experiencing the Sophomore Slump, it has a name for a reason: it happens to a lot of kids. The reasons above are just a sampling-I’m sure there are many, many more. Your child is not strange, or isolated, or alone.  And, just like a hitting slump in baseball, or “junior high boy syndrome,” it will end.  It is just a season of life.  Part of the problem is that so many of these kids struggle, but they sometimes don’t talk to each other about it, so they assume they’re the only ones who do. Encourage your kid that they’re not the only ones. Show them this article, and that someone’s actually writing about it.  Encourage them to talk to another adult or one of their close friends about it. It helps to know you’re normal.
  • Make sure you have the full perspective. Because of the way high school is set up, and because, appropriately, we receive a lot of our information about the day-to-day happenings of school from our kids, this is the information we often act upon as parents.   Just because they now shave their face or their legs, however, doesn’t mean that their perspective is fully mature. Now, more than ever, they need us, our life experience, and our ability to look at the big picture, and to help them see it all. Even talking to other parents, who are also getting their information from their teenagers, has its limits. In addition to those sources, teachers, coaches, youth pastors, parents of older kids who have been through this season of life, our own parents, are all tremendously valuable, centering sources of perspective. And, of course, the greatest source of wisdom is the Holy Spirit, who gives when we ask. Which brings me to the next point:
  • God is even at work here, too. Don’t assume that, because I’m the head of school, my kids don’t struggle, too. Don’t put that on them; they face the same issues yours do.  But, like so many other challenges, struggles, and failures our kids face, we have a prayerful decision to make: escape or play through? God, who loves them more than we do, is at work in their lives. He is molding them, shaping them, using this difficult season to make them the man or woman He is calling them to be. Grit, determination, and learning how to love difficult people are all vital parts of success in this life, resonating in eternity. Sometimes, escaping a difficult situation and getting a change of scenery is not a bad thing; however, it is not always the right thing, either. At times, high school is a blast. At other times, it is not. When the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives, however, it is always fruitful.  These are tough, tough issues—Advanced Parenting. Graduate level parenting. I get it, and I would support anyone’s prayerful, thoughtful decisions. Just food for thought.

I will close by saying that I’ve never met a senior who stayed, played through the Sophomore Slump, and regretted it.

Jay Ferguson, PhD, writes regularly on his blog, The Head and The Heart.