We all want the best for our children. But when it comes to motivating and encouraging our teens to study hard, we don’t always say the right thing – or get our timing right.

Luckily for all of us, researchers at The Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY) have just released a new report which reveals what today’s teenagers want their parents to be saying, and doing, as they navigate the stressful senior years of school.

The report, titled “Please Just Say You’re Proud of Me’’ was based on interviews with nearly 100 Australian students in years 10 and 12.

It found that age group experienced tension “between asserting their independence while still deeply wanting and needing the support and guidance of their parents in their education and decisions about the future”.

“The consultation confirms that, for most students, support from their parents and families is a key factor in them doing well at school and is an important foundation for their future.”

So they want us involved – but how much?

The four “strong and consistent” things students told ARACY they wanted from their parents, carer or support person was for them to:

  1. Focus on the positive, express pride in their achievements often and express acceptance of who they are as a person
  2. Remind them that their parent, carer or support person loves them unconditionally, and is always there to help
  3. Offer practical guidance and assistance in tackling stresses and other problems at school and in life generally
  4. Encourage and support them to follow their own aspirations and make their own decisions for their futures, rather than being pressured to follow their parents’ or carers’ dreams.

Students also care about more than just grades

While most students agreed it was important for them to do well academically, their idea of success at school was broader than that. Success at school for them also included doing their best, establishing and maintaining friendships, developing life skills and doing well in extra-curricular activities.

“A consistent and concerning theme across all groups who participated in the consultations was the high levels of stress and anxiety that many students reported about doing well at school and about succeeding in their futures,’’ the report found.

“Many students noted the impact of this pressure to do well on their mental health and the challenge of maintaining a healthy balance between study, friends and family life.’’

Thanks Mum and Dad, but please no extra pressure

The report also showed students realised the importance of parental guidance and support to achieve their goals and dreams, but they were worried about falling short of others’ hopes for them.

“Students … often conveyed heartfelt gratitude to their parent for their care and support but also revealed real concerns about doing well at school and worries about failing to live up to expectations.

“The responses they wrote from their ideal support person suggested that, despite their growing maturity and independence, students still very much wanted the love, approval, and encouragement of their parents and needed to know that parents were proud of them and their efforts.’’

Parent engagement a key ingredient to success at school

The ARACY findings are the latest in a long line of important studies that show the power of parental engagement.

ARACY CEO Penny Dakin confirmed parent engagement was “linked to a range of positive student behaviours such as more regular school attendance, better social skills and improved behaviour, and better engagement in school work”.

“When we talk about parent or family engagement at school, we mean more than working at the tuckshop or helping on sports day. These are great. But the real impacts on education and the wellbeing of the child come when a parent gets involved in helping their child learn,’’ Ms Dakin said.

“This includes a range of simple but effective activities that any parent or carer can do. It can be talking with your child about what challenged them at school today, discussing their homework, reading with them or discussing items on the news, and, very importantly, listening to their views.

“This doesn’t lose importance when young people transition to their high school years, although it may need to evolve with their growing independence – things like discussing learning strategies and making preparations and plans for the future.’’

Find out More

You can read the ARACY report, and its recommendations, in full here.

The Queensland Independent Schools Parents Network is a passionate advocate for parental engagement! Our website has lots of research about parent engagement and also a range of resources to help you support your child’s learning and wellbeing. You can also read our latest story on parent engagement, which includes practical tips, here.

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