Starting high school: The importance of parents being involved, staying involved and talking to one another

This time last year I wrote an article on the importance of a 'smooth transition' from primary to secondary school. Research has shown that by Year 10, those students who managed to get through this difficult transition period without too many issues are likely to have higher levels of school attendance, better academic results, low behavioural problems and lower rates of substance abuse. What happens in the first few months of high school can play an important role in how their future plays out …

I recently read a wonderful research paper by Anne Coffey that discussed the key to a successful transition being 'relationships'. In the article, the author identified a number of potentially 'negative' changes that can occur during the move from primary to high school including the following: 

·       a decline in self-esteem due to changes in learning environment and more demanding schoolwork
·       a "dip in academic performance and motivation", and
·       a disruption of existing friendship networks, with peer groups forming and reforming in the new school setting

The last point is what I discussed last year – the fact that this is a period when existing peer groups will often go through major changes and young people will 'bounce' from group to group in an effort to find one that, not only do they want to be a part of, but is also willing to accept them. The so-called 'popular group' is always pretty easy to identify and it's sad but true that no matter what your age, most of us would secretly love to be a part of the 'cool group'. But that's not going to happen for most of us and in the first few weeks of high school there's going to be a mad scramble to find out what group you'll end up in …

At this stage of development, it is becoming increasingly important to gain acceptance from peers and many will establish peer groups at this time that they will take through their whole secondary school experience. All parents hope that their sons and daughters end up with a 'great group of friends' – but what does that really mean from a parenting perspective? Realistically, you want them to 'hang out' with peers who have similar values and attitudes as you have hopefully tried to instil in them. Sadly, that doesn't always happen and when it comes to alcohol and parties, that can end up being a nightmare for some parents!

Coffey states that research has found that, not surprisingly, one of the chief concerns of students at this time is 'making new friends and fitting in'. If they've come from other schools, some will grieve for the friendships they had there and even if they go to a K-12 school, there is always a significant influx of new students that will undoubtedly impact upon existing friendships. It's important to note that this concern has usually disappeared by mid-way through Term 1 as the friendship groups start to settle and the students 'find their place'.

Now, you can't choose your child's friends for them (as much as I'm sure many of you would like to!) but I did suggest that there are a few simple things you can do to ensure you know as much as possible about what is going on in this area. Remember, what happens during this period is really going to help you in the years ahead around socializing. So, do your best to do the following:

·       keep talking to your child and show an interest
·       be involved
·       meet their new friends
·       meet their new friends' parents
·       don't be afraid to express concern if you're worried about who they're hanging out with - if you don't feel comfortable with their friends, let them know but do it carefully and respectfully but, if it doesn't feel right, it most probably isn't and you need to let your child know how you feel

Coffey agrees that parents' participation is critical in the whole transition process. According to the research, parents who are involved at this time are more likely to remain a participant in their child's secondary schooling. Evidence clearly shows that this partnership increases the likelihood that students will achieve at a high level, be well-adjusted and are less likely to drop out of school. We've been talking about the difficulties that young people face during this time, but it is also important to remember that it can be difficult for parents as well. They need to forge relationships with either a new school and/or new teachers. All of a sudden, you're not dealing with one classroom teacher – you're dealing with many, some that your child may have a great relationship with and others not so much. 

So, it's not just me saying that parents should be involved at this time – the research backs me up! The problem is that we know so many parents do just the opposite and instead of maintaining and building upon the relationship they may have had with their child's primary school and teachers, they pull away when they hit high school – some never to be seen again!

I get it – your child is growing up and they need to develop independence, they also don't really want you to turn up at the school, no matter what the reason! This is a time, however, when parents not only need to be well-informed about the school and procedures, they also need to develop effective parent networks. These are incredibly important and can assist you in all sorts of areas, particularly parties and gatherings and, of course, alcohol. Do this early and identify like-minded parents who have similar values and attitudes to you and it'll be so helpful in the future. Your kids are going to try to 'silo' you as much as possible, telling you that you can't call the parent hosting a sleepover or making sure they limit the amount of information they give you about any upcoming event – don't 'silo' yourself! Get involved, stay involved and keep talking to one another.

If your child is just about to start high school, make sure you try to:  

·       attend as many information evenings as you can now and later – they're important! No school puts these on because the teachers want to stay on school grounds for longer – they're held for a reason. They provide valuable opportunities for parents to be positively involved in the transition period and beyond
·       grab every opportunity to meet other parents through school events – as your child makes new friendships during this time, establish contact with other parents. If you were a parent who walked your son or daughter to school every day when they were in primary, that provided you wonderful opportunities to meet others who did the same thing. That doesn't happen during the secondary years and so you've got to find other ways to meet parents and create those vital networks


Coffey, A. (2013). Relationships: The key to successful transition from primary to secondary school, Improving Schools 16, 261-271.


  1. Thank you very much for this. Our daughter started high school today so it was very timely advice. This reinforced my own thinking and I've been thinking a bit about the need to build and reinforce those parent networks. As much as I'm not keen on driving my kids around, I really appreciate the benefits of the time spent together and they usually open up more. Friends have found the same with their kids. When our son first started school, I also read about the importance of having a good out of school friendship group. That way, if they have a falling out with friends at school, they'll hopefully still have a friendship group to ease them through. Our local high school has 5 feeder schools and so our kids have known quite a few of the kids from others schools through activities like scouts and dancing and that extends their friendship options.
    Best wishes,


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