Factors Affecting Teenage Children’s Welfare in School: A Guide for Parents
As any parent of teenage children knows, a child’s teenage years can be an emotional rollercoaster at the best of times.
But the hormonal nightmare of being a teenager can be heightened by issues relating to their welfare at school, to which many factors contribute. As a parent, you’ll need to be aware of the factors that could be affecting your teenager’s experience of school – from the usual pressure of exams to more serious problems like bullying – so that you can respond sensitively to them and keep your child happy and well. In this article, we address some of the most common issues that affect a teenager’s time at school and look at how you can provide the right support.
Life at school
Your teenager is going to be spending the best part of five whole days a week at school, and this constitutes a major chunk of their everyday lives. If there are issues at school, it will feel to your child as though those issues are having an impact on their entire world. Here are the main issues to be aware of.
The right choice of school
Underlying your teenager’s welfare at school is your choice of school. It’s important to choose the right one for your child, and to involve them in the decision as to which one they go to. There’s a lot of variation even among the top schools; it makes a big difference, for instance, whether a school is single sex or co-educational. Some schools place more emphasis on academic achievement than others, thereby creating a more high-pressured environment in which some children will thrive, while others may falter. Other schools are known for their high-powered networking opportunities (Eton College being a prime example), and it’s down to your child’s personality whether or not this is an environment in which they will feel comfortable. You know your child best, and finding a school that’s suited to their personality is key to their happiness during their school years.
A drop in academic achievement on the part of a child who normally achieves top grades can be a warning sign that something’s wrong. Academic underperformance can be caused by a number of issues, and it’s important to try to get to the bottom of what’s causing it without making your child feel as though you’re nagging at them, or disappointed with them. It’s likely to have an impact on their self-esteem, and if it’s not handled sensitively, it could have a lasting detrimental effect on their relationship with their studies. Talking tactfully with your child about it will help you determine the root cause of the issue; it could be that they’re being bullied (more on this below), or that they’re not getting enough academic support, or that they’ve lost motivation for some reason. There is plenty they can do to reverse the negative effects of academic underperformance before it takes too firm a hold; have a read of our article on what to do if you’re underperforming for more advice.
Academic pressure, workload and exam stress
Exam stress can get to even the most studious and confident of children, and it’s something to keep an eye out for, particularly as exam season approaches each year. There’s a lot of pressure on them; they need to get top GCSE grades because they’ll look good on their university application, and then they need to achieve top A-level grades to give them access to the universities they want to apply to. In addition to that, they’ll often also be taking on part-time work and extra-curricular activities, not to mention trying to maintain a social life. It’s a lot to juggle, and if they become irritable and short-tempered as exams approach, it may be a sign that the stress is getting to them. Unfortunately, there isn’t an awful lot you can do to help them, other than be a supportive presence in the background; let them know that you’re there if they need your help with anything, and make sure they have the peace and quiet they need to be able to study. Also, ensure they know that you’ll love them regardless of the grades they get; you may not realise it, but they might be working themselves into the ground because they fear your reaction if they don’t achieve top grades.
Relationship with teachers
It’s important for children to build a good relationship with teachers; quite apart from the fact that a good relationship with teachers makes for a happier day-to-day experience of school, it’s the teachers who’ll be writing university references. If your child takes a dislike to one or more of their teachers, it may affect their academic performance as well as their wellbeing; they’re less motivated to succeed in that teacher’s subject. On the flip side, if your child feels that a particular teacher has taken a dislike to them, this is likely to cause anxiety about going to school, and may have an impact on self-esteem, too. The best thing you can do is to take the opportunity to talk to your child’s teachers whenever it arises – parents’ evenings being a notable example. This should enable you to sense any problems, whether or not the teacher tells you directly, which can then be addressed verbally to nip them in the bud.
Friendships and relationships
A major concern of any teenager is the friendships – and perhaps even the romantic relationships – they form at school. Your teenager will be experiencing a raft of different hormones during their school years, and this can make them particularly sensitive to social situations. They’ll likely feel embarrassment or awkwardness more deeply than an older person would, and it’s not at all uncommon for tensions in friendship groups to arise and cause major upset. Usually these blow over quickly, but longer-running issues can constitute a big distraction from academic work and can therefore have an adverse impact on your child’s progress in school. It’s difficult (if not impossible) to intervene in such a situation; unless it’s descending into bullying – which we’ll look at later; it’s something they’ll have to work out between themselves. However, you can at least be a supportive presence and a sounding board if they want to talk about the situation with you. You can help by offering the perspective of someone older and wiser; they may not listen, but you will at least feel that you’ve done your best to help. Another issue might be the complete opposite: your child is getting on so well with their friends (or boyfriend or girlfriend) that they’re spending too much time with them and neglecting their studies. If this is true of your child, it might be useful to highlight the bigger picture to them: that school may seem unimportant compared with friendships now, but that they are working towards university, and university will put them on the path to a well-paid career and comfortable living. It’s hard to do anything about it when your child is at school and wasting free periods by hanging out with their friends instead of studying, but you can try to ration the time they spend socialising outside school. You could try to encourage them to see socialising as a reward, something to look forward to after they’ve completed a homework assignment. You might try offering other incentives to get them working harder, too; for instance, there’s debate about whether financial incentives are effective (or even morally acceptable), but pocket money could be a good way of motivating your teenager to focus more on their studies.
Bullying can be experienced throughout your child’s time at school, whatever their age. It comes in many different forms, but they can all have a major impact on your child’s happiness in and outside school. Bullying can be verbal or physical, but it can also be emotional – for example, excluding your child from social activities, spreading malicious rumours, and so on. It can be difficult to tell whether your child is experiencing bullying, as they may not want to involve you for fear of making the situation worse. Look out for behaviour changes, such as your previously outgoing child becoming quiet and withdrawn. If you discover that bullying is the cause, talk to your child about it and go with them to talk to a teacher about it. Agree on a course of action to tackle the bullying, and insist on regular meetings to discuss whether the situation has improved. You’ll find more information on dealing with bullying at BeatBullying.
Your home life has an impact on your child’s welfare at school, as stresses at home affect how well your child is able to cope with the pressures they experience at school. Creating a peaceful environment at home is also important, because it allows your child to concentrate on their studies. If they have younger siblings, for instance, you can do your bit to help your teenager by keeping their younger siblings quiet so that they’re able to study. Here are some of the other home life issues that could be affecting your teenager.
Moving house frequently
There is a wealth of anecdotal evidence to suggest that frequently moving house during a child’s education is hugely disruptive and stressful to them. School is stressful enough without your child having to settle into numerous different schools, so if at all possible, try to minimise the number of times your child has to move schools during their education. If it’s unavoidable owing to your work commitments, it might be worth sending them to boarding school, as this will remain a constant in their life and they won’t have to make new friends repeatedly.
Your teenager isn’t immune from bullying even when they’re at home, thanks to social media. “Cyberbullying” is bullying that occurs over the internet, and it’s particularly destructive because it targets children when they’re in their own home, where they should be safe. Among its many possible manifestations, it could include harassment or threatening behaviour over social media, spreading malicious rumours or posting compromising photographs of your child. Cyberbullying can eat away at a child’s self-esteem and affect their academic life, so keep a close eye on their behaviour around the computer (quickly hiding a window when you approach may be a warning sign, for instance) and their demeanour in general to spot any changes that may indicate something wrong. Impose rules about when they’re allowed to go online, and for how long, and talk with them about staying safe online; make sure they know how to block and report people who are harassing or bullying them online. It may help to familiarise yourself with the social networks they’re a part of, so that you know what to do in the event of any issues arising.
If you’ve made the decision to home school your children, this can raise a whole different set of issues. One of the primary issues to contend with will be the lack of social interaction; your teenager may feel isolated when they’re doing all their studying from home, and won’t have the motivation of competing academically with peers. It’s therefore important to encourage them to undertake hobbies outside the home so that they meet other teenagers and make friends. You may also find that motivating your teenager to study takes some doing. This can be solved by imposing a strict, school-like timetable, with a daily routine involving them having to get up and start studying for a particular time, and subjects scheduled in just as they would be at school. Looking after the wellbeing of a teenager is rarely a simple undertaking, and every parent will have their own way of doing it. With any of the issues we’ve talked about in this article, encouraging a culture of open and honest discussion in your home will go a long way towards identifying and dealing with problems as and when they arise – before they grow into something that affects your child’s academic progress and wellbeing.