Moving to secondary school can fuel negative image issues for children desperately trying to “fit in” – so
how can parents help them to navigate any potential insecurities?
Parents of 11-year-olds across the UK will be making last minute preparations for their child’s move to secondary school, from labelling new uniforms to buying stationery and working out the best route to the gates. But one thing parents can overlook is how their child is actually going to cope with the culture shock of a new environment in which they may feel judged on everything from their hairstyle to their weight – worries which can result in a serious loss of confidence and self-esteem.
Dr Mahadev Jasti, Medical Director and Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at The Priory Wellbeing Centre Manchester, tells Trinity PR; “Issues surrounding body image and self-esteem are at an all-time high, and these concerns are often amplified when a young person leaves the safe and familiar environment of their primary school.
“Whilst children as young as 7 are already absorbed in the ‘selfie ’culture, smartphones are less common at primary schools, and this allows children a healthy phone-free zone for much of the week. However, secondary school is a different sort of environment entirely. Young people – especially girls – are starting to experiment with new hairstyles, clothes and make-up. As a result of social media, there’s also the endless temptation of commenting on, or criticising, another student’s ‘look’. For many 11-year-olds, this level of scrutiny is unchartered territory, and it’s vital for parents and carers to keep a close eye on any insecurities that might start to set in.”
So, The Priory Group – with its experience of working with children and adolescents – has developed some pragmatic tips for parents and carers to help their Year 7s feel confident and positive, and get the most out of secondary school by feeling comfortable in themselves:
Always include your child when stocking up new uniform and equipment and allow some leeway according to their individual tastes, where appropriate. Whilst it is tempting to buy a super-size blazer (with plenty of growing room), remember they are the ones that have to wear it and risk ridicule.
Emphasise personal qualities over appearance
Support your pre-teen’s talents that have nothing to do with how she / he looks – like music, sports, arts, Scouts, even gaming. Show an interest in their passions and pursuits and regularly praise them.
Try not to make critical remarks about your child’s body or fashion choices. Instead, compliment your child regularly as they take their first steps into the world of secondary education. Show them you’re on their side
Be a good role model
Your pre-teen is closely watching your lifestyle, habits, and attitudes, even if they seem to cringe every time you speak. Pay attention to the example you are setting, and comments you might be making. If you’re constantly criticising your own perceived flaws and worrying what others think of you, so will they.
Be aware of what’s “on trend” – and choose your battles
Whilst maintaining the mantra that life is not all about looks, recognise that it is natural for teenagers to want to wear the latest fashions and brands whilst trying to settle into a new environment. They should be allowed to embrace individual style (within the confines of a school uniform). Try not to turn every attempt your daughter makes to roll up a regulation school skirt into an all-out battle.