My top 10 tips for helping teens though secondary school

I'm working with DECD and Parents SA during "Parents in Education" week in SA in a couple of weeks time - talking on a panel with the Minister and presenting at a couple of workshops around Adelaide.  One of the journalists doing a story on this week asked me for my top 10 tips for parents on helping them through secondary school.


I really wanted to write about 50 ...and include an essay on each one...but in the interests of space I had to prioritise.  

I've copied them here for your interest.  What would be yours?

1. Ask questions

Asking questions (gently, kindly and casually) about teenagers' subjects, assignments and teachers is important for helping them trouble shooting problems and be successful at school

2. Frequently thank, affirm, praise and express care

Find opportunities every day to say "I admire you for...", "I'm sorry you are dealing with....", "I love how you...." and "Thanks so much for....".  Being positive and caring helps teenagers and also helps us stop to notice the positives - and feel better.

3. Friendships matter

Teenagers who have good relationships with their peers are happier and this in turn has an effect on results at school.  Help teens find ways to make and build friendships, allow lots of socialising time, help them resolve conflict and put in place opportunities for them to find new connections.

4. Talk with and support teachers

Email and ask questions of teachers, thank them when they do something we appreciate, give them information about our teenagers and respond to notes/interviews/questions.  Expect and help teens to ask questions of and communicate with teachers too.  

5.  Keep teens busy.

Teens who have regular activities, hobbies, jobs or sport they engage in on some weeknights or on the weekends are more likely to succeed at school than those who sit around not doing much out of school hours.  Having at least some out of school activities leads to better social connection, a sense of achievement and better time management skills

6. Have set routines for phone free homework time

Expecting teens to consistently motivate themselves to finish and focus on homework completely independently is unrealistic for a large number of teens.  It is entirely reasonable to have family rules about short periods of homework time each night in which teens have their phones on silent and social networking sites are blocked. Many families do this (don't believe teens who say "no-one" has rules like you!)

7. Have rules about "lights and phones off" sleep times

Up to 70% of teenagers are sleep deprived.  This makes them more irritable, sick more often, do worse on tests and exams and struggle to motivate themselves.  The 30% who are not sleep deprived do better at school and with managing their mood - and this 30% very often have parents who turn off the internet at a certain time of night and insist on phones out of bedrooms.

8. Prioritise school attendance

Attendance is highly correlated with school results.  It's fine for teens to have the occasional mental health day but repeated days off to "catch up" on work or because they are tired leads to a downward spiral of missing more work and getting further behind.

9.  Forget grades

Don't focus on grades.  Ensure that teenagers are following house rules about daily homework, sleep, school attendance and communication with teachers and then allow the grades to fall where they fall.

10. Be kind - to ourselves, and to our teens

Adolescence can involve lots of struggle, suffering and distress - for teens and their parents.  Be kind and compassionate towards ourselves, acknowledge that this is a hard job and we are doing great stuff.  Then it's easier to be kind and compassionate towards our teens too.