Par­ents can help their chil­dren cope dur­ing their some­times awk­ward ado­les­cent years


SEC­ONDARY school can be a lonely place for ado­les­cents who don’t have a best friend or a group of trusted friends. Young peo­ple will be more skilled in the art of mak­ing gen­uine friends if they know how to be as­sertive, are op­ti­mistic about life, have some ba­sic so­cial skills and have a re­la­tion­ship with a par­ent/carer that in­cludes hon­est talk.

Sec­ondary school, in par­tic­u­lar ju­nior sec­ondary school, co­in­cides with a time in life when young peo­ple are push­ing new so­cial and fam­ily bound­aries. The tran­si­tion to sec­ondary school is es­pe­cially de­mand­ing as once-de­pen­dent chil­dren be­come more in­de­pen­dent in a new school­ing or­der of new rou­tines, new teach­ers and new friends.

Young peo­ple can be cruel and un­kind to each other and to adults dur­ing this stage of life. Be­ing bul­lied, teased and left out are signs of friend­ship trou­bles. Un­der­stand­ably, vic­tims of bul­ly­ing feel less pos­i­tive about the school en­vi­ron­ment.

Be­ing as­sertive can help young peo­ple in not only stick­ing up for them­selves, but it can also com­mu­ni­cate to oth­ers a sense of self-as­sured­ness. An as­sertive way of speak­ing and be­ing can make young peo­ple at­trac­tive and more pop­u­lar with peers.

Assertive­ness in­volves po­lite but firm talk, eye con­tact and con­trolled be­hav­iour. It’s not to be con­fused with ag­gres­sion, which of­ten takes the form of a raised voice, in­sults, put-downs and greedy be­hav­iour.

One way adults can fos­ter assertive­ness in young peo­ple is to en­cour­age it in the safe en­vi­ron­ment of the home. Young peo­ple can prac­tise as­sertive lan­guage and be­hav­iour when they ex­plain to sib­lings that their room is not a pub­lic thor­ough­fare, when they de­fend their right to use the bath­room by them­selves, but in a timely way, when they ar­gue they need quiet and time alone to com­plete home­work.

Grief and tears about friend­ships are in­evitable in the sec­ondary school years. At some stage, your child is likely to come home ei­ther sullen, with­drawn, cry­ing or moody. They may even ex­pe­ri­ence school re­fusal, which is when they refuse, or are re­luc­tant about go­ing to school.

An ado­les­cent who has a pos­i­tive mind­set is more likely to bounce back into the usual rou­tines of friend­ships. When a young per­son has a pos­i­tive mind­set, they tend to see set­backs and trou­bles as tem­po­rary. They iden­tify them for what they are (spe­cific, time-re­lated is­sues) rather than for what they are not (global and eter­nal).

That is to say, pos­i­tive chil­dren are more likely to iden­tify a spe­cific and rea­soned ac­count of friend­ship trou­bles (“Sally was mean to me to­day be­cause she was in a ter­ri­ble mood”) rather than a global and ex­ag­ger­ated ac­count (“Sally is mean, she has al­ways hated me”).

You can fos­ter a pos­i­tive mind­set in your child by mod­el­ling and en­cour­ag­ing pos­i­tive self-talk in the home. Ex­pect your child to be look­ing for­ward to some­thing each day at school. That might be catch­ing up with friends, a par­tic­u­lar class in school or even an exam or test!

Ado­les­cents are more likely to fit in and make friend­ships if they are seen to be so­cially ac­cept­able by their peers. Ask your­self if your child is com­fort­able with, and knows how to en­ter a group sit­u­a­tion and greet friends. Does your child mix with friends in the school grounds dur­ing breaks? Does your child talk about their friend­ships at home? How many of your child’s friends do you know well?

Poor so­cial skills can lead to in­creased lone­li­ness in ado­les­cents.

Be­ing cool is a strong driver for sec­ondary stu­dents. But be­ing au­then­tic is even more ap­peal­ing. Ado­les­cents recog­nise and ap­pre­ci­ate gen­uine and au­then­tic peo­ple – even if the peer is a bit quirky and seen as an out­sider. It’s also a good idea to make con­tact with teach­ers at your child’s school to ask about their per­cep­tions of how your child mixes so­cially with their peers.

Chil­dren who have good and healthy re­la­tion­ships with adults are more likely to have good and healthy re­la­tion­ships with their peers. So, it’s im­por­tant for you to fos­ter a sup­port­ive re­la­tion­ship with your child. Try to be an en­cour­ag­ing par­ent who re­ally lis­tens to your child’s con­cerns. Your child will not ex­pect you to have all the an­swers. But it’s likely a lis­ten­ing ear, and a mea­sured and mod­er­ate re­sponse will be wel­comed by your ado­les­cent child. If your child per­ceives you to be fair, that will go a long way to es­tab­lish­ing a solid re­la­tion­ship be­tween adult and child. In turn, it will in­crease the chance that your child will have good re­la­tion­ships with his or her peers.

Ado­les­cence can be tricky to nav­i­gate from a par­ent’s per­spec­tive. Mak­ing and main­tain­ing healthy friend­ships is just one bat­tle of the teenage years. Parental en­cour­age­ment and seek­ing sup­port from the school can make this as­pect of the ado­les­cent years re­ward­ing and fruit­ful for many years to come. | The Con­ver­sa­tion

Chambers is a lec­turer at the School of Education, the Aus­tralian Catholic Uni­ver­sity in Bris­bane.

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