Secondary school is a time in every young person’s life full of possibilities, plans, hopes and goals. But anxieties and stresses can also take a toll during these years. This time in your child’s life is important for so many reasons and it’s not only exam results that help to shape who our children will become as adults. Peer pressure, their first love, social media, making independent decisions, and potentially having their first part-time job all contribute to adjusting to their adulthood to come.
Help them to develop good coping skills
Even adults facing interviews or mortgage applications still get nervous and so just imagine how it must feel for a young person who isn’t used to stressful situations. We never really grow out of being put off by stressful events but age and experience help adults to cope effectively.
What can I do to help?
- Talk to your child about their challenges but don’t offer solutions – at first. Listen to them and take the time to help draw out the specifics. They might not know themselves what’s bothering them specifically, but being able to identify your child’s worries will help you to help them find solutions.
- Help your child to manage anxiety and stress using relaxation techniques. These techniques aren’t just about meditation but can include football in the park, fun days out with the family, creative activities, writing in a journal or having the time and space to spend with their friends and peers.
- Let your child know that once they’ve come through a tough time (and they will come through!) they’ll have a helpful roadmap for dealing with similar situations in the future. The first secondary school exam, the break up of their first romantic relationship, or difficulties with peers are extremely testing but are also required to help young people develop healthy coping skills as adults.
Deal with negative influences head on
Most parents don’t want to face the issue of drug or alcohol use with their child but doing so proactively can save a lot of worry in the future. Opening up discussions early or helping them to learn more about these issues will not only protect them but will also prepare them to become responsible adults.
What can I do to help?
- Acknowledge that even when the issues aren’t directly discussed at home, secondary school students are often exposed to misinformation from their peers. Consider too that your child may not feel comfortable talking with you about these issues if they’ve never been discussed in the home before. There are some great resources to point your child to but do have a conversation beforehand. Let them know that you want to explore these issues with them not because you don’t trust them but to help them help their peers to understand the issues and not the myths. Visit Talk to Frank for information on discussing drugs with young people, or Drink Aware which offers tips on how to support young people to make good decisions about alcohol.
- Secondary school is a time when some older students may start to consider becoming sexually active. This may not be welcome news to parents but young people with the right information will be safer and better able to make responsible choices. If you’ve never discussed sex with your teen before, start by asking what their friends think about sex and relationships, what they’re taught in school, and if they ever feel under pressure to have sex. Let your teen do the talking and if they’re resistant, leave the conversation for a few weeks’ time. You can find more information and guidance on talking to children and teens about sex at Today’s Parent.
The importance of maintaining good mental health
Mental heath can be good or poor just like physical health and talking about it is important – we all have it! But often, a young person feeling anxious or depressed will turn to their friends for support leaving parents in the dark.
What can I do to help?
- Remember that feeling down is normal for everyone from time to time. We all have good and bad days and feeling low is not necessarily an indicator of a deeper problem.
- Proactive discussions about mental health are important to let your child know that everyone can feel depressed or anxious, sometimes for no reason, or sometimes because of a set back in life. Start by asking them what they think of the topic and if their friends ever talk about feeling unable to cope. Hormones and the stresses of growing up often cause young people to feel isolated so let them know that it’s totally normal to feel like that. If you yourself faced similar issues when you were in secondary school, you might like to talk to them about it briefly and without going into detail. Let them know that they’re not alone and that you love them whatever they might be going through.
- Look for hints of deeper distress but don’t jump to any conclusions. Tearfulness, mood swings and a lack of appetite are not always signs of mental distress but if they’re ongoing or affecting your child’s enjoyment of life let them know that you’re there for them. You can also talk to your GP for advice and guidance. For more information on young people and mental health visit Young Minds.