Education Quandary: 'Help! After a year at secondary school, our 12-year-old daughter has become a rebel whose work is going backwards'

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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

I can see many readers saying, "So what? That's normal." But adolescents don't inevitably turn into antisocial monsters. To assume so is very damaging.

Teenagers can be moody and difficult, but basic social codes must still apply. If young people receive respect from their teachers and parents, then adults have every right to expect the same thing back.

This girl's father writes that she has become "popular, super-confident and a handful for teachers" at school, but at home "she is cheeky, sarcastic and full of back chat". He doesn't know what to do.

First, take a very tough line on the back chat and tell her that you find this rude and upsetting and expect better of her. Then talk to her. Talk about how genuinely confident and popular people don't need to throw their weight about, and that the way that people approach their work shows how much – or little – they respect themselves. Talk about how you're worried about her behaviour and are wondering if there is anything wrong about her new school. She may not appear to listen, but carry on.

At the beginning of next term, make an appointment to see her new form tutor, outline your worries and agree on a common approach to helping your daughter move on. If you do all this with love and firmness, confidently expecting that things will get better, they almost certainly will.

Readers' advice

Our son, at 12, was the same. He was given a schedule of daily and weekly reports at school, while at home we grounded him for a week and banned his PlayStation. He fought and argued, but we stuck to our guns.

He settled down as he realised that he wasn't going to get his way, and his marks crept up. By the end of term, he was getting As and went on to get 10 good GCSEs.

The report process revealed that there was a personality clash between him and a young, new teacher, something he'd been telling us, but that we'd ignored. The school sorted this out. My advice would be to set your daughter boundaries, and to get the school on board.

Name and address withheld

Girls are insecure and their peers are everything. If her school doesn't address the pack mentality, move her.

Geth Evans, Devon

She's normal. She sounds like the kind of child I wish I'd been. Do you expect to go on at her without a reply?

Mark Taha, London, SE26

Next week's quandary

Dear Hilary, Our 11-year-old wants to be a vet. How can we help him? He knows he will have to work very hard and gain "animal experience". He is above-average academically but not outstandingly so. Should we encourage him? What alternatives can be considered for animal-mad clever children who don't quite make the vet grade?

Send your replies, or any quandaries you would like to have addressed, to h.wilce@btinternet.com. Please include your postal address on your message. Readers whose replies are printed will receive a Collins Paperback English Dictionary 5th Edition. Previous quandaries can be found on www.hilarywilce.com, where they can be searched by topic.

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