Pressure increases

In answer to many letters, Liz Norman writes: “Grade 8 is a difficult year for many boys and girls. It is very important for parents to spend time continuously communicating with their children to find out the potential sources of their anxieties. This can be an exhausting process as this is the age where adolescents tend to withdraw from their parents and speak to them less and less, so parents need to be very creative in ways of communicating and not just give in to shouting.”

“This is also the stage when hormone development and physical growth reach a peak, whilst at school a vast number of new pressures and demands are placed on them. They’re expected to take on more responsibility for managing their time, extra mural activities, friendships, increased work load and, if they’ve changed schools, coping with being the youngest in a new High school.”

Friends change, bullying amplifies, peer groups develop

“Many have great hopes and dreams about this important year, only to find that the reality is not what they expected. Friends change, bigger kids can isolate and torment them, and the peer group becomes a powerful source of affirmation and pressure. There is a deep subconscious fear of being alone in this phase and a very real attraction for testing where one fits in the pecking order of peer relationships. And if the ‘group’ chooses to isolate a child, it can be very hard for even ‘good kids’ to find the courage to resist.”

“As a result boys and girls often gang together and pick on some unfortunate child who may be different to them in some way. Differences can be minor (not having the right lunch box or pen), or more major in terms of religion, moral beliefs, or TV viewing habits. Life can be hard if a child with strong values refuses to acknowledge the power of the group and chooses to remain on his/her own.” “Sadly, many children do not have a strong moral compass in their own lives and, sadder still, many do not have parents who are able to help them develop one. It’s easier for some parents just to give in to the demands made by the group (to go to the clubs/mall etc), than to spend time with their child teaching them why being different is ‘okay’, that rules and laws are there for a reason and that parents should be the ones saying ‘no’ to many adolescent demands.”

Let’s start talking about the challenges

“For parents whose children are struggling, encourage them to discuss the reasons and brainstorm potential ways they can manage the situation, including the option of approaching a teacher, counselor or principal. If they feel they can’t do this, parents need to discuss the options of them meeting with staff. Leaving the school is a drastic move and while it might solve a short term problem, it does not teach the child problem solving skills and dealing with peer pressure. I would also suggest seeing a professional counselor or psychologist who can help establish what really is happening and help the child (and the parents) find ways of coping.”

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