Research shows that parents often suffer a drop in confidence around their parenting when their children become teenagers.

More parents of teens, for example, report being concerned about their ability to manage the transition to secondary school than parents managing the transition to primary school, according to a large study of 2600 parents conducted in 2017 by the Parenting Research Centre. Parents of teens also report use of devices and sleep as major issues of concern and a large minority – nearly a third – say they rarely exercise or play outdoor games with their children.

Implications for teen health

These findings have implications for teenage students’ physical health, their relationships and connections with their family members. They also highlight that the transition to secondary school is an opportunity to check in with parents – who are key change agents in their children’s lives and may be actively seeking guidance and help with their parenting. At this time of significant transition there is a change in parents’ school networks when they are familiarising themselves with new teachers and support staff.

As children move into Year 7 they naturally become more independent and this can result in parents thinking peers are more important than family relationships. But in contrast, evidence shows that that parent and family support is critical at this time and can have long-lasting effects.

Strengthening relationships

Parents can strengthen and recalibrate their relationship with their teen during this time by working with them as a team to prepare for life at high school. They can:

  • Be encouraged by others to attend school orientation programs together or find other transition services
  • Make decisions together about transport options or subject electives
  • Listen to their fears and worries about starting high school and reassure them that their feelings are normal
  • Help their child keep in touch with primary school friends to keep some familiarity and ease the transition
  • Help facilitate new friendships by hosting new friends at home or taking children to others’ houses
  • Encourage their child to pursue new opportunities such as extracurricular activities

Connecting home and school

There are also a number of strategies parents can put into place to build closer ties to the school and their child’s teachers. For example, it’s important for parents to know who the best contact point at their child’s new school is as they adjust to the different communication style and boundaries in the high school environment.

Finding the right home-room teacher or year level coordinator is a good starting point for parent-school relationship building. Parents will also have adjusting to do as they move away from primary school networks and routines – connecting with and finding support from other high school parents can help them help their kids.

Parents can often feel isolated from school and teacher relationships when their child starts high school. To assist with the transition, it can be helpful for schools to find opportunities for parents to connect with staff, in addition to the comprehensive orientation programs they already run for students. Acting as an ongoing information resource and touch point for parents is one key opportunity – and some are already familiar with this role.

Seeking help from teachers

Our research has found that parents of children aged 13-18 are more likely than parents of younger children to seek help from teachers. Educators are also in the top five sources of parenting information nominated by parents of teens, who are also looking online for advice. Parents report the vast majority of these interactions with educators as positive, with low numbers of parents reporting feeling judged, blamed or criticized.

However, they do report being less confident than parents of primary school-aged children in how to help their child to do well at school. And they are less likely to be satisfied about communication with teachers and with involvement in decision making around school.

This may present schools with opportunities to engage interested parents who want to enhance their child’s learning. Government-funded resources such as the Australian parenting website also provide a wide range of evidence-based, free and reliable resources on teen behaviour and parenting teens. Topics range from screen time to sleep, keeping the conversation alive with teens and tackling tricky topics.

As we start the new school year it’s timely to reflect on the positive influence and impact of schools that reaches well beyond the classroom. Given the information overload today’s parents face, educators are a highly trusted source of reliable information.

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