Many young people find starting high school a time of mixed emotions: excitement, fear, confusion, curiosity and adventure and most admit that starting a new school experience can be a bit scary. They may feel lost and confused, miss their old primary school friends and worry that they might not fit in. Expect your young person will have to cope with changes and some might be challenged as they adjust to differences.
Most students will be negotiating body changes in response to puberty. As this is an individual journey your coltish young person might share classes with students who look like they have left their wives and kids in the car park! High Schools are much bigger, anonymous places than primary school where everyone knew your name and school systems with different classrooms and different teachers add an extra challenge. Friendships change and even established friendships can be challenged in the high school melting pot as students tackle one of the primary developmental tasks of establishing identity.
If you find that your student is irritable and short tempered, being withdrawn, changing behaviour by being disagreeable or rebellious or articulating stress through pain in the tummy or head or school refusal these might be signs that your teen is not coping. While many students exhibit some of these behaviours anyway, if these signs persist after the first few weeks it’s time to speak to the school to help address the source of stress.
Parents also might find this a stressful and confusing time while they are juggling work and family commitments and figuring out how much help and support to offer the new high school student. Here are my favourite pieces of parental advice drawn over the years from our parenting groups:
- Remember that despite their emerging sophistication students still need to hear you say you love, approve of and support them
- Provide reassurance by normalising some of the confused and unsure feelings and perhaps sharing your own high school experience
- Celebrate their strengths: they need to be reminded of what they do well while they tackle challenges
- Be a supportive listener and don’t give advice too quickly: help them problem solve and encourage thinking for themselves
- Be patient while your student tackles the challenges of first year high school and remember that being organised is usually a learned skill
- Get to know the school community – other parents can be your best resource.
How to survive the year 12 formal
The Year 12 formal season looms and here are 5 tips from a parent who has survived the slippery slope of the formal environment three times!
- What they wear will only be important for one night. She will never wear the dress again even though you will discuss ways it can be shortened, lengthened, gathered, tucked, slashed, dyed or subtly or dramatically altered for cousin Stephanie’s wedding in November. Budget for hair removal and attachment, spray tan, make-up, jewellery, shoes, flowers and transport. And then take out another mortgage on the house or sell one of the younger children to pay for all this. Hire his suit – for about $99 he can get his choice of suit, shirt, tie, handkerchief, cummerbund, vest and even shoes. Just make sure he has black socks and put your cash into a good haircut and a decent shave.
- Don’t argue about the white socks. Pick your battles and decide what really matters. I was recently reminded that it was his formal not my formal. Work to become a consultant in approaching the formal rather than an opponent.
- How you attend the formal is more important than who you attend with. The majority will attend with a date. However I know teens who have decided to take a friend or family member, groups who “hire a Hummer” for the evening and who dances with who can be very fluid on the evening and others who attend solo – meeting up with friends at the formal venue. I think we need to remind them that the formal is about having fun and celebrating the moment. Its about marking a milestone in their lives and its significance might only be apparent in hindsight.
- It’s all about the after party. The formal itself is usually a “lock-in” affair with teachers providing supervision in an alcohol and other substances free environment. It’s a bit boring really. Put your parenting energies into managing where and how they will attend the pre formal jolly up and subsequent after party when supervision isn’t a given while access to party substances is. Talk to your young person and plan practical strategies to minimise harm. Talk to the parental hosts of the after party to decide if this is somewhere you want your kids to be and to confirm that they know about the party. Have a contingency plan ready if things go downhill.
- Parents need to have fun too. Remember this is one of the final hands on parenting experiences you will have with your year 12 student. Make it a positive memory. All too soon they will be launching into life without you (and that $900 dress will be still rolled up in a ball in the back of her wardrobe).