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Starting high school: The importance of parents being involved, staying involved and talking to one another

This time last year I wrote an article on the importance of a ‘smooth
transition’ from primary to secondary school. Research has shown that by Year
10, those students who managed to get through this difficult transition period
without too many issues are likely to have higher levels of school attendance,
better academic results, low behavioural problems and lower rates of substance
abuse. What happens in the first few months of high school can play an
important role in how their future plays out …

I recently read a wonderful research paper by Anne Coffey that
discussed the key to a successful transition being ‘relationships’. In the
article, the author identified a number of potentially ‘negative’ changes that
can occur during the move from primary to high school including the following: 

a decline in self-esteem due to changes in
learning environment and more demanding schoolwork
a “dip
in academic performance and motivation”, and
a disruption of existing friendship networks,
with peer groups forming and reforming in the new school setting

The last point is what I discussed last year – the fact that this is
a period when existing peer groups will often go through major changes and young
people will ‘bounce’ from group to group in an effort to find one that, not
only do they want to be a part of, but is also willing to accept them. The
so-called ‘popular group’ is always pretty easy to identify and it’s sad but
true that no matter what your age, most of us would secretly love to be a part
of the ‘cool group’. But that’s not going to happen for most of us and in the
first few weeks of high school there’s going to be a mad scramble to find out
what group you’ll end up in …

At this stage of development,
it is becoming increasingly important to gain acceptance from peers
and many will establish peer groups at this time that they
will take through their whole secondary school experience. All parents hope
that their sons and daughters end up with a ‘great group of friends’ – but what
does that really mean from a parenting perspective? Realistically, you want them to ‘hang out’ with peers who have similar values and attitudes as you have hopefully tried to
instil in them. Sadly, that doesn’t always happen and when it comes to
alcohol and parties, that can end up being a nightmare for some parents!

Coffey states that research has found that, not surprisingly, one of
the chief concerns of students at this time is ‘making new friends and fitting
in’. If they’ve come from other schools, some will grieve for the friendships they
had there and even if they go to a K-12 school, there is always a significant influx
of new students that will undoubtedly impact upon existing friendships. It’s
important to note that this concern has usually disappeared by mid-way through
Term 1 as the friendship groups start to settle and the students ‘find
their place’.

Now, you can’t choose your child’s friends for them (as much as I’m
sure many of you would like to!) but I did suggest that there are a few simple
things you can do to ensure you know as much as possible about what is going on
in this area. Remember, what happens during this period is really going to help
you in the years ahead around socializing. So, do your best to do the

keep talking to your child and show an
be involved
meet their new friends
meet their new friends’ parents
don’t be afraid to express concern if you’re
about who they’re hanging out with – if you don’t feel comfortable with
their friends, let them know but do it carefully and respectfully but, if it
doesn’t feel right, it most probably isn’t and you need to let your child know
how you feel

Coffey agrees that parents’ participation is critical in the whole
transition process. According to the research, parents who are involved at this
time are more likely to remain a participant in their child’s secondary
schooling. Evidence clearly shows that this partnership increases the likelihood
that students will achieve at a high level, be well-adjusted and are less
likely to drop out of school. We’ve been talking about the difficulties that
young people face during this time, but it is also important to remember that it
can be difficult for parents as well. They need to forge relationships with either
a new school and/or new teachers. All of a sudden, you’re not dealing with one
classroom teacher – you’re dealing with many, some that your child may have a
great relationship with and others not so much. 

So, it’s not just me saying that parents should be involved at this
time – the research backs me up! The problem is that we know so many parents do
just the opposite and instead of maintaining and building upon the relationship
they may have had with their child’s primary school and teachers, they pull
away when they hit high school – some never to be seen again!

I get it – your child
is growing up and they need to develop independence, they also don’t really
want you to turn up at the school, no matter what the reason! This is a time, however, when parents not only need to be well-informed
about the school and procedures, they also need to develop effective parent
networks. These are incredibly important and can assist you in all sorts of areas, particularly parties and
gatherings and, of course, alcohol. Do this early and identify like-minded
parents who have similar values and attitudes to you and it’ll be so helpful in
the future. Your kids are going to try to ‘silo’ you as much as possible,
telling you that you can’t call the parent hosting a sleepover or making sure
they limit the amount of information they give you about any upcoming event –
don’t ‘silo’ yourself! Get involved, stay involved and keep talking to one

If your child is just about to start high school, make sure you try to:  

attend as
many information evenings as you can now and later
– they’re important! No
school puts these on because the teachers want to stay on school grounds for
longer – they’re held for a reason. They provide valuable opportunities for
parents to be positively involved in the transition period and beyond
every opportunity to meet other parents through school events
– as your child
makes new friendships during this time, establish contact with other parents.
If you were a parent who walked your son or daughter to school every day when
they were in primary, that provided you wonderful opportunities to meet others
who did the same thing. That doesn’t happen during the secondary years and so
you’ve got to find other ways to meet parents and create those vital networks


Coffey, A. (2013).
Relationships: The key to successful transition from primary to secondary
school, Improving Schools 16, 261-271.

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