Monthly Archives: July 2017

Students and parents learning at high school

There are four people central to secondary school students’ learning and achievement: the student, the parent (or carer), the teacher, and the peers. Without question, the most influential of these is the student themselves.

It is the student who must engage in class, do homework, complete assignments, study, and sit exams. My research shows the next two most influential people are parents and teachers. While I have previously discussed the role of teachers, there is also much to be said regarding the role of parents and parenting.

Parents influence secondary school outcomes in numerous ways, including providing or arranging for help, encouraging the child, valuing effort and education, and creating a home environment conducive to study.

Parenting style

During secondary school, students will move through different stages of adolescence. Over this time they will experience enormous social, physical, emotional, and cognitive changes. In addition to the major academic task of completing school, students also have the major developmental task of establishing their autonomy, self-responsibility, and self-directedness. Meanwhile, parents will need to maintain a delicate balance between providing support as needed and “letting go” as needed.

Research indicates there are four parenting styles:

  1. An “authoritarian” style adopts clear boundaries, consequences, routines, structure, and expectations – but little warmth and acceptance of the child.
  2. A “laissez-faire” or “permissive” style has very few boundaries, consequences, routines, structure, and expectations – but a good deal of warmth and acceptance.
  3. A “neglectful” style is characterised by very few boundaries, consequences, routines, structure, and expectations – and very little warmth and acceptance.
  4. An “authoritative” style has clear boundaries, consequences, routines, structure, and expectations – and also a good deal of warmth and acceptance of the child.

Overall, it is the “authoritative” parenting style that is linked to positive academic outcomes. Adolescents are best able to establish their autonomy, self-responsibility, and self-directedness when they are raised in a secure and predictable environment.

Undoubtedly, they will push and exceed the boundaries, but that and its consequences are part of the development of their identity and understanding the social “norms” to which they will be held to account in adulthood.

When to support and when to let go

The line separating each parenting style can be blurry. As young people move into later adolescence, the “optimal” style will tend to slide between “authoritative” and “permissive”.

There will be times when it is appropriate to let go and even allow the child to “fail”. In other situations, however, rules and routines must be observed and consequences administered if not. This may be because “failing” would present too much of a risk to the young person’s wellbeing.

Knowing when to let go also depends on the individual teenager. For example, there are some students with learning challenges that necessitate relatively more support, structure, and routine.

Some of my recent research, for instance, has focused on students with ADHD. These students experience significant executive function deficits (for example, planning, organisation and working memory) that impede their academic development. As a result of these challenges, I found these students were significantly less likely to complete schoolwork and significantly more likely to be suspended, expelled, change schools, or repeat a grade. These students therefore benefit from relatively more parental involvement and support than other students.

Making the most of your child’s strengths and abilities

Effective teachers will take the time to understand their students so they understand who they are teaching and how to optimise their academic outcomes. They will differentiate and individualise instruction to make the most of each student’s attributes.

Similarly, parents who can understand and accept their adolescent’s temperament, abilities, strengths, weaknesses, and interests, are in a far better position to know when and how to support them. They will also more accurately know when and how to let go as necessary.

Indeed, social researchers have suggested we have some key needs that are critical to be met for our optimal functioning. One of these – the need to be taken seriously – is considered paramount, as is the importance of feeling understood and accepted by others.

Adolescents place high value on being taken seriously, feeling understood, and feeling accepted. Parents who strive to understand and accept their child are in a terrific position to provide tailored support as it’s needed. This is also the basis for a good relationship and an adolescent’s further growth and personal development.

50 per cent of something is better than 100 per cent of nothing

Given adolescents’ drive for autonomy, it is natural for them to push back from parents and overstep boundaries. How parents respond to this is critical. Under-reaching or over-reaching is often undesirable. When the chips are down, I often ask parents to identify what they consider “minimally acceptable” to them and seek a compromise around this.

For example, a parent might want four hours study each weeknight leading up to Year 12 exams, but if the child is doing nothing, then two hours each night is an improvement. Not only are these two hours a potential basis for three hours down the track, but the parent has kept the lines of communication open, along with the likelihood of future compromise and negotiation.

The long game

Adolescence is a time when a young person and their parent are figuring themselves and each other out. It is not easy and the journey will vary from family to family. Becoming autonomous, self-responsible, and self-directed will not happen at the last minute at the end of high school. Rather, it is a long game and to play it well, the parenting style will need to adjust over the course of high school and in response to the individual attributes of the adolescent.

By UNSW Educational Psychology and Scientia Professor Andrew Martin

Original article published by the Conversation as How to maintain the balance between boundaries and freedom in secondary school parenting


Digital balance needs a realistic rethink

The hot topic on most parents’ minds these days is finding the digital balance for their kids. No matter what age their children are – from toddlers to teens – parents continue to grapple with finding a healthy balance between screens and switching off.

Researchers from the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne have called on the government to update national guidelines for child screen usage, with new research from the Australian Child Health Poll finding current guidelines do not equate to usage needs of children and the changing face of digital technologies.

Research lead author and pediatrician Dr Anthea Rhodes said guidelines for screen use in children were last updated in 2014 and new recommendations may help parents set realistic rules for use with their children.

“These [guidelines] were developed before the widespread use of mobile screen devices. Up-to-date guidelines and resources for parents and healthcare workers would give them a base for developing healthy habits when it comes to screen use,” Dr Rhodes said.

The Australian Child Health Poll, conducted by RCHM, found the majority of Australian children’s screen use – across all age groups – exceeded the current national recommendations.

Current guidelines recommend no more than two hours of screen time per day, which includes the digital spectrum of mobiles, tablets, TVs and all other screens.

Dr Rhodes said we were living in a new era of iParenting and the goalposts needed to be moved to adapt to changes in society.

“…what we learnt is just how much screens have become a part of life for Australian kids, even for very young children with a third of preschoolers owning their own smart phone or tablet device,” she added.

The research also showed most teenagers (94 per cent) have a phone or tablet and more than two –thirds of primary school aged children have their own mobile devices.

Dr Rhodes said finding the balance between screen and non-screen time was vital to ensure healthy lifestyles for children.

“…there is an opportunity cost where if children spend an excessive amount of time on screens they’re not getting enough physical activity play or face-to-face social interaction with other individuals.”

The Raising Children Network encourages parents to ensure their children enjoy varied healthy and fun activities both with and without screens.

Parents should look at the amount of time their children spend using screens and ensure the usage does not impede sleep or other physical activities which promote healthy development.

However, parents are urged to look at the broader picture of digital technology use by their children and not set limits on screen use – i.e. leisure time usage of TVs and video games – based on their child’s use of screens at school or to complete homework.

Bullying hits academic achievement of boys

Bullying among young students in Australian primary schools is having damaging effects on their academic performance, according to new research from the Murdoch Children’s Institute.

The institute’s latest research has found one third of boys aged 8-9 years are experiencing bullying on a weekly basis at school. In comparison, one quarter of girls the same age are also victims of frequent bullying.

Researchers used unique methods in their research, looking at child-reported bullying and using NAPLAN results as markers for academic achievement.

MCRI’s Dr Lisa Mundy said bullying was most common during primary school as children entered the “juvenile phase of development” prior to puberty.

“This is the stage where peers become more important to kids and they start to become aware of group hierarchies, which may explain why there is such an increase in bullying at this age,” Dr Mundy said.

Bullying can take many forms, from physical confrontations to covert styles which include rumour-spreading and cyberbullying.

Researchers found physically bullied students were anywhere from six to nine months behind peers in academic performance.

Boys were more likely to be physically bullied, however overall girls suffered more significantly in terms of poorer academic outcomes when bullied in any way.

“For physical bullying, whether combined with verbal bullying or not, we found for both boys and girls it was around closer to nine months delay in their learning,’’ Dr Mundy said.

“For girls, it was more pervasive and around more aspects of their learning, whereas for boys it was just around reading and numeracy,’’ she explained.

She said bullying could have very serious consequences for victims such as an increased risk of mental health problems, including self-harm and suicide.

“The impact of childhood bullying can persist into later life, potentially affecting not only mental health but also success in education.”

“Bullying is a worldwide health problem. We need to better equip schools and teachers to deal with the prevention of bullying to minimise the potential long-term effects it can have on a child’s social and emotional development.”

The study used longitudinal data from 1200 participants in the MCRI’s Childhood to Adolescence Transition Study (CATS). The full research results are published in the Academic Pediatrics journal.



Spotafriend – social media “friend” app or more?

There is an app for everything – including those targeted at teens to make ‘friends’ at the swipe of a button, track peoples movements and communicate anonymously. Parents struggle to learn about these constantly evolving and new apps and how to monitor their teens’ use of them.

Kik, Yellow, Spotafriend, WebKinz, Snapchat, Omegle, Yik Yak, Burn Note, Instagram, Line – the list of apps teens are using to communicate with friends and the wider world online is seemingly endless and always changing depending on peer use, media coverage, parental knowledge and app capabilities.

The key concern is how teens as young as 12 years of age are engaging with strangers online. Without the correct controls set on the apps they are potentially allowing them knowledge of personal details including their real-time location.

Given some of these social media apps are designed to connect teens in close proximity to one another, i.e. the same suburb, experts warn teens and parents need to be vigilant with cyber safety to minimise risks to young, naïve app users.

What parents and researchers see as “sinister apps” with “salacious materials”, many teens blankly view as new ways to get in contact with friends and meet new people quickly and easily – testing the boundaries and exploring possibilities with a click of the button.

However, with Spotafriend promoted as a teen Tinder-style app (the dating app for adults) parents should be concerned about the ease at which teens could be groomed by inappropriate users or be encouraged to behave promiscuously with other teen users of the app.

The Spotafriend website is confusing in itself, the meta description of the site (below its Google listing) describes it as “… a tinder alternative for people ages [sic] 13-19 years” yet the website has a large heading which states it is not a “teen dating app, it’s the new way to make friends.”

With recent media coverage highlighting the inappropriate promotion of the app as similar to Tinder, the Spotafriend website posted a blog entitled; “Five absolute ways to stay away from online predators” claiming the Spotafriend app is a “safe app” and including some very basic, generic ways to stay safe using social media.

The app’s website also details the method it uses to verify users’ ages, using photo recognition software, hand gestures and selfies to confirm the age range of new users – a system which was easily debunked by journalists at the Community Newspapers last week, researching the legitimacy of the methods used. Journalists also reported receiving inappropriate messages from other users soon after signing up to the app (also assuring readers they did not communicate with any users of the Spotafriend app during their research).

With the continual evolution of social media apps designed for or adopted by teens, parents are encouraged to keep the conversation open with their teens about social media use. Common Sense Media writes;

  • Embrace their world – try to understand why teens use social media and which apps they like to use and why
  • Teach them to respect their devices and have screen free time
  • Teach them about their digital footprint and reputation online and in real life
  • Use parental controls on computers and devices
  • Establish guidelines about where, when, how devices will be used and online use
  • Agree on downloads – which sites are appropriate to download from?
  • Encourage the “Golden Rule” – if you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face then don’t text it, Skype it, message it or post it
  • Reassure teens that communication is key – if they feel scared, see something suspicious or bad when using social media they can tell you about it without you automatically “pulling the plug”.

Engaging boys in learning

It’s the official halfway point of the 2017 school year, a perfect time for parents to review how their son’s learning is progressing and how to tackle any issues.

Boys and engagement don’t always go hand-in-hand in the classroom and with recent figures showing one in four students quietly disengage in the classroom setting parents need to gain perspective of their sons’ learning environments and whether their boys are active participants in their own education.

Disengagement from the classroom can happen at any age, from the youngest of learners not wanting to fill in worksheets of numbers, letters and words to older students struggling to see the point of learning activities with no obvious relevance to their day-to-day life.

Passively deciding to disengage in learning activities can have significant consequences on learning achievements – similar to those of students who are outwardly disruptive and aggressive in the classroom and fail to complete activities.

Researchers put disengaged, and therefore unproductive, students about two years behind in their learning compared to peers who actively take part in learning.

There are a multitude of potential reasons boys decide to switch off in the classroom; from problems at home impacting their classroom performance to one-off situations of frustration, disappointment or discipline by current or past teachers which result in boys reducing their efforts and lacking motivation or desire to succeed in learning opportunities.

At the other end of the scale, boys can also disengage due to boredom – highly intelligent students feeling unfulfilled or challenged by learning experiences and choosing to put minimal effort into activities as a result.

The Grattan Institute’s research report Engaging students: creating classrooms that improve learning starts with the most important yet most basic point in regard to engagement – students who are engaged in the classroom learn more.

“It’s vital that teachers create the right classroom climate for learning: raising student expectations; developing a rapport with students; establishing routines; challenging students to participate and take risks – these all affect how much their students engage and learn,” the report states.

Student engagement is vital to ensure students strive for their best opportunities to succeed in the classroom. It can be challenging for parents and teachers to re-engage students who have lost motivation or confidence in learning but acknowledging a child’s dissatisfaction with his learning environment is the first step to trying to rebuild his engagement in his education.