Many of us still vividly remember our first day at secondary school – for good and not so good reasons. Vivid memories of your experiences may have started flooding back as the day approaches when your precious child will walk through the gates of the new secondary school. What should you do and say to be the best safety net possible for your child?
It’s natural that our own experiences affect the way we raise our children. Some parents are very worried about their children starting secondary school because they had negative experiences in their own secondary schooling. Other parents who loved the secondary years automatically assume that their children will be the same. Here are a few reflections from observing both parents and students over many years…
If you hated secondary school or found it boring or difficult, relax.
The great news is that schools really have changed enormously. The curriculum today is more exciting and young-people-friendly. We are now far more aware of the issues facing young people and know the signs that indicate a young person needs support. And there is so much support offered at schools. Almost every school has welfare staff and even a psychologist. All teachers undertake professional development to understand and recognise bullying, depression and other social and emotional issues. Students have a voice now and there are literally dozens of exciting opportunities for leadership development as well as an amazing array of extracurricular activities on offer. It’s more fun at schools now!
If you loved secondary school or excelled academically and socially, don’t assume that your teenager will follow in your footsteps.
Your son or daughter may be as popular and as successful as you were but don’t be alarmed if they aren’t. Children are not all carbon copies of their parents. Hopefully, you will already know if your child has very different interests to your own. Sometimes, when parents are overly excited about a child starting secondary school, this can put undue pressure on that child. While it’s great to be excited, be careful of what you say. ‘I know you’ll be bringing home fantastic results like mum and I did’ and ‘You’ll be one of the best students in the whole year level’ are not helpful statements to make. They can lead children to begin worrying about disappointing parents. And if things don’t go smoothly, children may also think that something is wrong with them.
If this is your second or third child who is starting secondary school, maintain your enthusiasm and don’t assume anything!
Yes, being the second or even third child to venture forth into secondary education can make that child more confident and less in need of support. But this isn’t always the case. Take time to ask the new cab off the rank how things are going and watch for signs that everything may not be as smooth sailing as it was for your other children. Show interest. Never assume.
Prepare yourself emotionally
While most parents are not as emotional about a child starting secondary school as they were about that first day at primary school, it can still come as a something of a shock for many parents to realise how this stage can affect parents themselves. Children suddenly look so grown up in their secondary school uniforms with all of their new books and sometimes increasingly new attitudes! Some parents do feel rather emotional about their child suddenly looking less like a child than ever before. But all of this is good. We want children to grow up and start gaining independence and forming opinions and interests of their own. Don’t we? Pity about those dreaded adolescent hormones rattling the gates and eagerly trying to break through and make your child even less recognisable! The only consolation is that this is all a ‘normal’ and ‘natural’ part of every child’s journey to adulthood. So maintain a glass-half-full outlook and enjoy the ride. You will survive just as your parents and their parents did. By the way, although they may look all grown up, teenagers still need you!
Let them grow up…
Supporting children at this stage while helping them develop independence is a fine balancing act. Some days new secondary school students will need some TLC and a hug. Other days they will push parents away and demand space and privacy. Take each day as it comes and work hard to maintain a sense of humour and to keep a positive relationship with your teen. Ignore the little things that you can live with but be firm about the expectations you want to be honoured. Save your energy for the battles worth fighting. You may turn a blind eye to the messy room but make sure that homework is completed before TV or social media exploits.
Establish good routines and expectations at home
Teenagers are growing in these years and need at least eight hours of sleep to learn effectively the next day. Tired teens are more moody and more likely to fall out with family, friends and teachers. Once again, make known your expectation that homework is completed before other interests – TV as well as social media interruptions. Ensure that your teen does have responsibilities at home and does these well. This may only involve setting or clearing the table but some set tasks help teens develop a sense of responsibility as well as feeling needed.
Look after yourself!
You don’t need anyone to tell you that parenting can be exhausting. You know all too well that the secondary school years coincide with the hormonal years of adolescent development and rebellion. All parents need to set aside some ‘Time Out’ even if this is only half an hour a day of complete down time. If you can maintain your energy levels, you will have more energy to help your teenager thrive in these important years.
Work with the school
Teachers can be your best allies through the ups and downs of the secondary school years. If your family is going through a rough patch, keeping the school informed helps teachers know that your teen may need some gentle support and understanding. Privacy will always be respected. Great schools do see parents as partners in the education of children.
Keep communication channels open!
Know who your child’s friends are and make them welcome in your home. You will pick up a lot from observing friends and interactions. Know what homework your child has every day and make sure you praise effort and any other achievements. Keep in the good books by offering to ferry your child and friends to and from sports and other events.
Maintain a sense of humour!
Some days will be harder than others and there will be times when you wish your teenager was five again instead of fifteen. But often it’s the hormones speaking and not your darling child. This too shall pass! Remember to take time for yourself. Recharge. Get a coffee with friends who will make you laugh as you hear about their teen troubles. Tomorrow will be better. If it’s not, and things are really ‘hairy’, ask whether your teen’s school has a counsellor you can see. They can often give you great support that is free and confidential. Hang in there!