Our eldest daughter is now heading into the delights of sixth form, which means in a very short time she will be leaving home. Watching her morph into young woman has been fascinating; really this phase of life is no different to the end of toddlerdom – at 4 you wonder how on earth they would last a day at school but by 5 – ta da! Functioning human. And so it is with the late teens. With the right input, they blossom like a crystal kit into a young adult with a heap of skills – very few of which can be taught in school, from a book or need an exam at the end of them to prove their worth.
I read this post on Parenting in Year 12 this morning; it’s a great article with lots of useful information but I feel this journey should be less about a seamless transition into another institution, less about a parent managing a child into somewhere new, more about a young person becoming independent. Life is more than qualifications and jobs. It is about being able, being safe, being sure of yourself and about having confidence in carving out your place in life.
I don’t want my girls or boy to leave home needing to ring home and ask how to boil potatoes. I want them to have skills for work and life that aren’t contained in an A* on a certificate. And I don’t want them to have had their transition from school to university or employment to have been stage managed by me – sixth form is about beginning to take responsibility for yourself, making some mistakes, learning a few skills through trial and error but with the fall back of parents on hand if you need it.
Here are the skills I think the parent of a Sixth Former should focus on helping them with.
It’s our job to help them:-
- Build a personal portfolio – use 6th form to become a rounded person with achievements and skills to discuss at interviews and on CVs. Make sure they have some skills they could use to get a job if the money runs out.
- Develop time management skills – learn to make a realistic revision timetable. Experience being employed alongside school commitments, hand in homework on time alongside preparing for a dancing or music exam.
- Learn to say no – our eldest wants to do everything. It’s no longer our job to tell her no, it is our job to encourage her to be rational about effectively completing commitments. It’s our job to help her to see the value in saying “I can’t do that at this time”.
- Make decisions about the future – where I disagree with the article above is on how much of the A level to adult journey is mine to project manage. This process is a first adult responsibility – if they mess it up, perhaps they aren’t ready.
- Manage pressure and expectations – part of A Level seems to me about being exposed to working under great pressure and managing it. It’s a life lesson in keeping cool, keeping organised, keeping a lot of balls juggling at once. It won’t always go perfectly. Embracing that idea is fundamental to coping with life.
- Push boundaries – all kids are different and some are reluctant to exceed comfort zones. Sixth Form is about pushing them to try the things they find hard, be it interviews, auditions or a weekend with friends at a festival. It might even be a solo train or taxi ride.
- Embrace the bad stuff – if you haven’t, now is the time to have the sex, drugs and drinks conversations. It’s about telling the stories of your own unsafe drunken tube ride back across London and the day you realised you really might be pregnant. It’s about letting them know you’ve been there and they can turn to you.
- Suck it up – It’s not always going to go to plan and those are tough days. We are responsible for being brisk and being brutal if they are being ridiculous. It’s not my job to say “There, there, they don’t know what they are missing out on…” – it’s my job to say “What have you learned to do differently next time?”
- Cook, Clean, Shop, Budget – I really couldn’t boil potatoes when I left home. Late teen parenting is about the laundrette and the supermarket and about them having 7 basic meals they can cook without spending much money. It’s about saying “I’m sorry it scares you but if you want to make that trip you will have to get the train” and giving them safety tools for managing unexpected scenarios. It’s about saying “you need to save up for that”. It’s about teaching them to use the Dyson and clean a toilet.
- Become adult – I’m talking about preparing them for the day there is no one to check they got home safely and no sister in the bed across the room. I’m talking about them knowing they feel awful because they haven’t eaten or they need a doctor or knowing the dose of paracetamol they can take. It’s about having the confidence to say “this was the wrong decision and I need to make a change.”
And more than anything else, parenting a teen through Sixth Form is about helping them separate from the family unit while making sure they know they will always – ALWAYS – be part of it.