Gearing up for high school

Google ‘13 year old in South Africa’ and among the top stories that emerge are ‘13-year-old arrested for Mondeor (High School) murder’’ and ‘School boys raped girl of 13 while other’s videotaped her ordeal’.

Why 13? It’s the average age at which South African children enter high school and the biological cusp of adolescence.

Whether you look to age and hormones or the change in oligarchy – the transition to adulthood, in a country with a high teen pregnancy rate and where schools admission forms ask for criminal records and disclosure of gang related activity –  it seems that kids have to be geared up for high school.

Human potential expert Nikki Bush says realistically parents need to have been building emotional bridges early on.

“It is not as though your child turns 13 and you flip a switch or turn on specific parental skills. You need to anchor your child in your family values, but this should be apart of the ongoing parental journey…Not to mention that it’s easier when your child is 3 and seeking a deep connection with you as opposed to when he or she is 13 and wants desperately to be validated by their peers,” says Bush.

Bush says irrespective of what is happening physically, emotionally and socially – a child rooted in a particular belief system can be trusted to seek out their independence in their teenage years without overbearing parental anxiety.

From a medical perspective Dr Shaquir Salduker, Psychiatrist and Director of the Durban Pain Clinic, says an aware parent knows the risk factors and is astute enough to look out for them and hopefully rule them out, accepting that this is a phase that all adults go through.

So what do you and your savvy 13-going-on-30-year-old need to know as he or she goes from being at the very top of the primary school ladder to being at the very bottom of the high school food chain? 

Simplest to-do: cut screen time and start early. From what I’ve read no more than 1 hour of screen time a day.

Dr Shaquir Salduker says the teen brain and body is going through a great deal in adolescence. These young people are finding themselves. It is a tumultuous time usually and these days is confounded further by social media.

Parents should avoid getting caught up in teenage drama. A lot of what’s happening is very normal. Don’t be a helicopter parent, allow them to develop.

Bush says your teen is biologically wired to expand their social network in the world and separate themselves from their parents. They want to be apart of the crowd and fit in with friends.However, they also have a deep desire to have a meaningful relationship with you. You need to build a family brand they want to be a part of. In the same way they’re attracted to the reinforced marketing from big name brands, you need to be consistently connecting and circulating. Here’s how

Use ‘teachable moments’. When something school related occurs in the news or perhaps something happens to a peer, raise the issue at dinner and put it up for discussion.  Ask how do you think you would react if that happened to you? How do you think this will affect this child in the future? This is a fantastic framework for a conversation with a teenager.

You want to chat over experiences, perhaps when you’re at the gym together or cycling. Have conversations that matter not speeches that don’t. Layer your communication to build a brand your child wants to be part of.

Teens can indeed fall in love and parents need to be mindful of the complex emotions they may be experiencing. You’re going to have to be empathetic if you want them to allow you in on what’s going on. Intimacy is often sought and hearts are often broken. Be there for your impressionable child.

Sex should be on the table for discussion, kids feel overwhelmed because it’s taboo.

You need to know your kid and even if he or she cant talk to you, you need to know who they will talk to. Relationship with other adults – family, God parents, a teacher or perhaps your friends – may be useful for these times. Be sure to provide role models for your children.

Shakira Akoobar, a PhD candidate in Inclusive Education at the University of the Witwatersrand, is a mother of three and presents Schools Out on DStv. She says, get involved with your child’s school. Don’t miss parent teacher meetings, be present at sporting and debating event. Its a positive feedback loop, the child sees that you see value in them. 

Bush adds, have a positive mindset. Some schools do go from Grade 1 through to 12. If your child does have to change schools at high school, it will make them resilient.

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