First year: a survival guide
The transition from primary to secondary school can be as tough on parents as it is on teenagers, writes Sarah O’Doherty
Every parent will remember their child on the first day of school. Did they cry and cling to your leg? Or skip off without a glance over their shoulder? Did you walk away in tears? Fast forward nine years, and, while there may be less clinging and crying, it can still be as emotional as your child is once again the “baby” on their first day at secondary school.
Parents should acknowledge that there will be a period of adjustment, so allow your child, and yourself, space and time before you wonder if they’re not settling in. Also be aware that you and your child may have different fears and concerns: the things that excite them about secondary school may be the very things causing you to worry: independence, freedom, mixing with new people, love interests.
The biggest single worry for teens starting secondary school is generally about friendships. Even children who are moving with an established group worry about being separated into different classes. Reassure your child that everyone is in the same boat, and that even the most outwardly confident person is nervous. Talk to them in advance about practical things like starting a conversation, talking to people about joint interests, joining in sports or activities, and just saying hello to the person sitting next to you. Another good tip is to encourage your child to keep up any old friendships and activities outside school.
It can be heartbreaking for a parent to watch their child struggling socially, but it’s important to strike a balance between supporting them and not making the situation worse by letting them feel your anxiety. If you’re lucky enough to have a socially confident child, encourage them watch out for anyone who is having problems and to include them if they can.
Another big concern for parents is that their child will make friends who are not good for them. Rather than banning certain friends – which can make them even more desirable – ask yourself what role they fill in your child’s life; is it because they can’t make any other friends, or does your child see something in them that you don’t?
They will inevitably make poor choices at some stage in their lives, and sometimes it can be wise to let the friendship run it’s course rather than intervening too soon.
At a practical level, fatigue can be a big issue for first years as they adapt to the changed system, longer hours, regular after-school sports and more homework. Battling with these demands is the screen time, with 70 per cent of teenagers spending one hour or more on the internet or phone daily. As they struggle to organise their time, it will help them if you set some clear rules and boundaries about sleep and weekday internet access. Teens need about nine and a half hours of sleep; less than this and their learning ability and mood will suffer.