Essential Conversations to Have with Your Teen Before Secondary 1

For teens entering Secondary 1 next year, this holiday season would’ve been filled with anticipation, excitement, as well as disappointment if the PSLE results and school allocation have not gone as planned.

Before the first day of school, do take some time to check in with your teen, and find out how he or she is feeling!

Below, we’ve highlighted the top five conversations that you should have as a family, so that your teen can start on the journey ahead with a positive mindset.

Disappointment over PSLE results

The first question you will need to ask is, “Who is disappointed? Is it the parent, or the child?” 

If your teen feels disappointed over the results, ask, “What have you learned from this setback? How has it made you stronger?” Help your teen to find the life lessons that are embedded in disappointment — and to see that they are gaining something from the experience.

At the same time, be cautious about making statements such as “results don’t matter at all.” It may offer temporary comfort, but such statements can also be counterproductive, as your teen may begin to devalue anything that he or she is unable to perform well in. 

“If a student has tried hard and made little or no progress, we can of course appreciate their effort, but we should never be content with effort that is not yielding further benefits,” says Carol Dweck, the author of Growth Mindset. “We need to figure out why that effort is not effective and guide kids toward other strategies and resources that can help them resume learning.”

In a situation where your teen has tried but failed, praise your teen for working hard, and reassure him or her that it’s just a matter of finding a learning strategy that works.

Dealing with a lack of motivation

Worried that your teen’s biggest issue is motivation? You can refer to the ‘self-determination theory’ that motivation experts often cite. This theory suggests that for a person to love work, the work must fulfil three criteria: 

  • Autonomy: a sense of being in control 
  • Competence: a sense of mastery
  • Relatedness: the ability to connect with others

If your teen appears to lack drive, ask these questions to identify gaps to work on in secondary school:

  • Do you feel like you have control over some aspects of your life? Are there areas where you would like to have more control?
  • What skills did you struggle most with in primary school? Did you feel you had enough support?
  • Did you feel connected to your classmates or CCA mates? Why do you think this was so?

Unhappiness over school allocation

If your child didn’t get his or her first-choice school, or if the school was chosen by parents, be prepared to face some resistance when talking about school. 

You may be tempted to say something like, “Give this school a chance. If you really hate it, I will transfer you to another school.” But the reality is that school transfers are not simple matters, and this may be a promise that you can’t keep.

A better approach is to focus on helping your teen to get to know the new school. If possible, schedule meetings with school personnel, so that they can talk to your teen. Point out the strengths of the school, as well as other advantages such as proximity to your home. You can also initiate contact with other parents from the school (and their children), and see if you can arrange meet-ups to help your teen build a school network. For more ideas, read our interview with a parent here.

Anxiety about making new friends

If your teen was previously studying in a single-sex primary school, but is now moving on to a co-ed secondary school, he or she may find it awkward to interact with the opposite sex on a daily basis. Similarly, a teen switching from a co-ed school to a single-sex school may experience some culture shock as well.

There are other transitions that can be challenging, such as when a teen moves from a neighbourhood school to a popular school filled with affiliated students — newcomers may find it hard to break the ice or gain acceptance.

As a parent, the best thing you can do is to maintain open communication with your teen. If mixed-gender friendships are a concern, talk to your teen about what to expect, and discuss appropriate boundaries, such as whether a male and female student should go out alone after school, or visit one another’s homes. It helps greatly if a parent has healthy friendships with both sexes, as teens learn best by example.

If your teen is having trouble getting to know people, encourage him or her to give it time. Let your teen see how you interact with strangers to start conversations, and try to include your teen as well, to build social competence. You can also surround your teen with adult mentors (friends and family) who can share their experiences with your teen and provide validation and support.

Becoming an independent learner

Most secondary schools will encourage parents to take a backseat, and let their teens take charge of their own learning. But in order for your teen to do so, he or she will need the right skills. These include:

  • Planning: Does your teen know what ‘revision’ entails? Is he or she aware of the learning methods that work, and those that are less effective? Talk to your teen about the pros and cons of different learning strategies, but let your teen decide how to study.
  • Time management: Does your teen know how to prioritise work, and to work before play? This is where you can give your teen some freedom in planning — if your teen wants to spend time on social media before getting down to work, but eventually finds that there is not enough time, this would have more impact than anything you could say.
  • Self-control: There are many aspects to self-control during teenhood, and in particular, device use can become a big issue for many teens. Healthy usage is when teens are able to fulfil their responsibilities without letting devices get in the way. Teens who are aware of what is healthy for them will require little supervision, as they will be self-aware enough to realise when it is time for a screen break. They will also look forward to non-screen activities such as sports and spending time with family and friends. Expect this to be an ongoing conversation with your teen.

Want to chat with other parents about preparing for Secondary 1? Share your thoughts here!