There are a greater range of core subjects at the secondary level and even good students may initially find a new subject or two challenging. Encourage your teen to keep an open mind and to see the new subjects as an exciting opportunity rather than an obstacle. There are strategies parents can adopt to help their children adjust to all of the new subjects at the secondary level.
Explain to your child that a subject that may not initially seem appealing may become more exciting as the term unfolds. A subject that seems too difficult may even become a favourite subject when everything falls into place a few months down the track. A teacher who may initially not be a teenager’s favourite person on the planet can become a trusted mentor and a highly regarded teacher. These things may just take a little time and patience.
Students will have electives in most schools. Once again, sometimes students take a while to warm to these.
In most schools, core subjects can be compulsory for the first three or four years at secondary school. It is very important that parents explain the importance of cooperating and working seriously in every class regardless of whether or not a teen enjoys a particular subject. Important skills will be acquired in every subject and we don’t always have to enjoy something before we do our best in it. This is a good life lesson for every student.
So how can parents help?
Offer to look at assignments and homework questions before your child begins working on them
‘How are you going to approach this? What does this question really ask you to do? When are you going to start this piece of work? Should you check with the teacher to make sure you have understood the task before you do a lot of work on it?’ (The answer to the last question is almost always ‘YES’!) Sometimes a quick discussion will reveal that your teen doesn’t really understand what is required. You may also be able to help your teen interpret a question or realise in time that it might be a good idea to approach the teacher for help or clarification of a question the next day.
Don’t do homework for your teenager
If you start doing this now, where does it end? And learning to manage time, how to break a task into smaller tasks, how to take notes and other skills are very important and become more important as students move up into more senior years. Doing all of the homework for children is disadvantaging them. Helping too much isn’t helping at all. And don’t rush out and find a tutor. This is providing a crutch before your teen even tries to walk unaided at the secondary level.
Work with the teachers
Students (and parents) need to be patient and take one day at a time in the first term at secondary school. Ask teachers for guidance and remember to do this earlier rather than right before the work is due. Sometimes it just takes a while for teens to settle in and adjust to so many new subjects, people and processes. Teachers are there to help you and your child find the right solutions at every hiccup along the way.
Encourage your child to find an interest at school
Most secondary schools have an enormous range of extracurricular activities. These range from special-interest clubs, drama, sport and leadership opportunities. There really is something for everyone. Joining a club or a school committee is often where young people make their best friends. Having friends and an interest apart from studies can make school a more attractive proposition for even the most reluctant scholar.
Encourage outside interests
Students who have a hobby, sport or part-time job outside school often benefit from the relaxation this provides as well as the new friends that are often made along the way. Provided that these outside interests don’t take up too much time, students who have a life outside school often do better academically. Having commitments outside school makes it compulsory to develop good time management skills!
Establish a good study routine for and with your child
Right from the start of secondary school, know how much homework is expected each night. Work out a plan with your child and work hard to stick to this. Your child needs to know that this is an expectation and she must keep to this unless a change is negotiated together. Some students have a short break and something to eat when they arrive home from school. They then complete half of their homework before dinner and the rest immediately after dinner. Discuss this with your child and make it clear that you expect her to honour this agreement and not to watch TV or allow social media distractions to slow down the completion of the homework. It may even be a good idea to have your child turn off her phone and place it in another room until all homework has been completed. Make it clear that having no distractions will actually speed up the completion of the homework as well as the quality of the work.
Maintain responsibilities at home
Part of growing up and becoming a young adult is taking responsibility for certain tasks at home. Make sure that your child has definite tasks he is responsible for. This may be to stack the dish washer after dinner, to walk the dog or to wash the car every weekend. It’s important that your child honours the task you agree on and shows the maturity to do this well and consistently.
Know your child’s friends
Young people need friends and they can help to maintain a healthy network of support in tough times. Make sure your child knows that friends are welcome at your home – but only after homework and other family responsibilities have been completed.
Keep up with everything happening at the secondary school
Know when the sports day, school concert and parent-teacher nights are running. Be familiar with all avenues of communication such as continuous online reporting of results and school diary entries by teachers.
Parents should always praise the efforts their children make both academically as well as in extracurricular activities. Children really need to believe that their parents are not only proud of them when they bring home a good score on a test. ‘That was a fantastic game! It must be so much fun to be in such a great team. Well done!’ Praising effort releases young people from the stress of worrying they will disappoint their parents. Your child needs to know that your love and pride are not conditional upon bringing home particular academic results. Of course you expect that he is doing his best but you are proud of every hard-won achievement regardless of the actual result.