If you’re the parent of an 11 to 12-year-old, chances are, this past month or two has centred on one thing and one thing only: high school.
Pop culture tells us that high school pretty much sucks. Self-doubt, an unfamiliar environment, hormones and ‘little fish, big pond’ syndrome are just some of the things your tween has to tackle, and it can all get pretty overwhelming.
Education expert Dr Kathy Murray reassures us that there are ways you can survive enjoy the next six or so years as the parent of a high school kid. The first thing to remember is that, biologically, high school couldn’t come at a worse time. There is a lot of development going on in the body and the brain during the ‘tween’ years – 8 to 12-ish – that can exacerbate the stress of high school.
“Hormones seem to take control of your body, and changes start to occur with proportion and shape which can really add to feelings of self-consciousness,” says Kathy. “Tears can flow more easily, annoyance bubbles to the surface unexpectedly and, because cognitively, the brain is still developing, rational reasoning and neural pathways are being created through practice and repeated learning and skills, requiring time, space and patience for that to occur.”
Hanging out with friends might become more important for acceptance and the development of self-esteem and self-concept, and some friends may not abide by your family rules – so parents, be ready for that. Provide choices so your child can experience autonomy within boundaries, without feeling like they need to act out to gain control.
Remember that teenagers need about nine hours’ sleep a night to feel refreshed and calm the next day, so regular bedtimes are important. Prepare well-balanced meals and create a routine that involves eating around the dinner table with the whole family to help your tween to feel secure and grounded.
“Take turns discussing the day,” says Kathy. “This is really important to teach your tween to share, vent, and download the day’s events, and will set up good habits for when things are worrying them – they are already used to sharing with you.”
Use empathy to acknowledge and normalise your child’s feelings: less ‘you’ll be right!’ and more ‘I can tell you’re a bit nervous about today’. Be prepared to ‘listen’ without always talking or telling your child what to do and respond by explaining the consequences of a range of actions to guide them to make the decision for their behaviour. Remember, the opinions of their peers may matter more than your suggestions.
“Your child is adjusting to a lot of changes and may need a bit of space and understanding,” says Kathy. “Praise positive actions, say ‘thank you’ for contributing to the household jobs, and respect their privacy. Give hugs to show love and acceptance, and most importantly, keep your home life stable so that the focus can be on starting school.”