Are you taking a deep breath? Are you feeling like you and your kid are about to step onto a roller coaster into the great unknown? Hell yes, oh my word, you are in for a ride. A wild, hilarious, stressful, teary, awe-inspiring, year-long ride. Buckle up! Here’s some super quick tips that I hope you’ll find useful as you go.
Year 7 is a fabulous year to fail
This was my mantra through our kid’s entire first year. Are 11 year olds too young to be in high school? Of course they are! In my experience, teachers treat year seven a little bit like the kindy year, and I encourage you to do the same. Celebrate that your kid has dressed themselves, vaguely remembered all their gear, and eaten their lunch. Their greatest tasks in first term are to turn up to class on time and figure out some kind of homework schedule. Bonus points if they remember to charge their laptop! Moving from class to class, adjusting to different teaching styles, learning how to be the small fish in the big pond again – these are all huge developmental learning tasks. It is not uncommon for grades to slip in first semester during this adjustment. It is normal for kids to fail at least one assignment or test, or forget to hand things in on time. These are fantastic learning experiences that teach them to care about their own efforts, not because you (or anyone else) is nagging them. It might take them the whole year to learn this. Be patient. They’re little.
Be their guide, not their boss
This is an adventure that your family is all on together. Talk with your tween/teen about what they think will work for them. Help them figure out when and how they want to do their homework, and what support they do and don’t want from you. Review regularly – what’s working, what needs tweaking?
What your child needs may be different from any of their friends. Some kids need parents to guide them to work less, de-stress more, and get out of the house. Other kids need support to set up a clear, structured routine. Others need a bit of both. There’s going to be plenty of complex social dynamics for your kid to wade their way through, too. Stay on their team.
Communication with the school
Most public schools now use Connect to stay in touch with parents and students. My advice – for the first year sign up for all the updates. Help your young person keep track of what assignments they have and when they’re due; when the free dress days are; what opportunities are on offer that they might want to pursue. Use this as a tool to help you in guiding them – not to check up on them 😉 They are learning how to use a homework diary effectively, and checking that they’ve popped in items from Connect is a great way to help them learn this skill. Try not to lose the plot at them when they lose their homework diary (note to my past self… sigh…). Be kind, clear and concise if you’re emailing the teachers, and don’t worry if you don’t know the the “right” person to contact – maybe start with the year coordinator, or any teacher whose name you know, and they will direct you from there.
Electronic devices and social media
Electronic devices are designed to be addictive, and it is unreasonable to expect your kid to have sufficient self-control (do you??). Help your kid. Many parents (us included) have a signed contract with their kid regarding use of electronic devices, specifying expectations and consequences for transgressions. Know their unlock code on all devices. My advice – never breach your kid’s trust by reading through their messages without their knowledge or permission. But in advance, have an agreement that you can request to read their messages if you have reason to be concerned, and that in the event of refusal you may need to override (I consider this similar to when, as a psychologist, we would breach client-confidentiality: If we believe there is a real and significant risk of harm to self or others). Use tools such as Google Family Link and Microsoft Family Groups to set restrictions you and your kid are comfortable with. For example, you can set the amount of active phone/computer time you are comfortable with them having over a course of a day; and have the phone and laptop auto-lock overnight. Keep devices out of bedrooms.
If at all possible, have the homework space set up outside of the bedroom, for healthy sleep hygiene. Bonus points if it’s somewhere that’s easy for you to monitor whether they’re on task and can be on-hand to provide assistance. If your child likes listening to music, be aware that music without lyrics is often okay, but music with lyrics is likely to slow them down. It takes people around 25 minutes of uninterrupted time before they enter their most productive “flow” zone – so help your kid by minimising distractions, and help them to turn off social media and keep their phone out of the space. Every time they are interrupted, that 25 minute internal clock starts again. A recommendation I heard last year was that you are better off agreeing to let your kid have an hour of uninterrupted social media time after homework, than permitting them to be distracted by social media during homework. I like to emphasise with my kids that we are looking for efficiency – the more efficient you are, the less time doing homework, hooray! In my opinion, an hour a day, five days a week is the most that it is reasonable to expect of kids this young. I will fiercely defend my kid’s right to leave homework unfinished if he has been focused and on task during his homework time. Help them have half an hour of screen-free, homework-free time before bed to help with their sleep routine.
Sex and drugs
Your kid is going to be exposed to all kinds of concepts you and they are not necessarily ready for. Get comfortable talking about sex, masturbation, consent, and all manner of drugs. You want them getting this info from YOU first, and coming to YOU with their stories and questions. Prep them for exposure to porn, it is going to happen, and you want your kid already equipped with how they are going to skillfully manage that moment.
There will be tears
At some point in first term, probably around week three, your kid will burst into tears and possibly hate school. This is normal. At some point in first term, you may also burst into tears. This is also normal. In our family, we recommend the kitchen floor as the best place for a good cry. There is no research evidence that I’m aware of that supports this claim, but don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.
They are going to blow you away!
This is the final thing. Your kid is embarking on the most incredible growth journey this year. By the time the first year of high school is over, you’ll barely recognise them from the one you farewell on Monday. They are going to surprise you in the most delightful ways. My eldest, who has just finished proofing this for me, chuckled a lot when he read that. From one parent to another, best of luck for the ride!
With grateful thanks to my school mum network who keep me sane. What other survival tips would you add to the list?