The transition from primary to secondary school can be a stressful time for teens, as they cope with academic demands, peer influence, body changes and identity issues.

In particular, the increase in academic pressure can be daunting, given the greater number of school subjects to tackle. Benjamin, aged 16 and Hosanna, aged 21 shared with us their struggles and challenges.

The Never-Ending Tasks

Benjamin shared that the secondary school workload and school hours took a physical and mental toll on him. A huge increase in the number of subjects meant that he needed to spend more time on revision and his schedule was always fully packed to the brim.

“No more breezing through assignments, no more ‘one past-year exam paper a day’ for revision, and no more coming home for lunch.” he lamented. Furthermore, Benjamin shared that he only gets home after 7pm on days when he has Co-Curricular Activity (CCA) commitments.

Students typically juggle eight to nine subjects in secondary school as compared to four in primary school. In addition, secondary school students have various school programmes and activities as well as their CCA to keep up with.

The rigors of secondary school are designed for teenagers’ holistic development but some teenagers may need time to adjust to the new demands. Parents should be empathetic to the stress children experience and show your support for them.

What Parents Can Do:
Be aware of your child’s new schedule and offer support when they need it.

Encourage teenagers to be autonomous by instilling organisational skills. Parents can share tips on how to keep assignments and class information together in folders, binders and notebooks.
This is also a good opportunity for you to sit together to create a timetable and to-do lists to help your teen plan ahead for upcoming deadlines and manage their time for work and leisure.

Be consistent with sit-down sessions with your teen to make sure that they are balanced, not distracted and on track to achieving their goals.

Complexity of School Subjects

Benjamin admitted that his studies proved to be more difficult than he had initially expected.

“I thought that I could get by with my proficiency in the humanities and languages, but it didn’t work out well. Neglecting Mathematics and Sciences in lower secondary was a very foolish decision,” he admitted.

Naturally, subjects are a lot more complex at the secondary school level where students are tested on critical thinking skills and are also exposed to new subjects such as Principles of Accounting (POA), Geography and History.

What Parents Can Do:
Parents should trust that schools have the welfare of the students at heart. Establish a parent-teacher partnership to keep up to date on your child’s progress. Make it a habit to respond to teachers’ calls and emails.

If your child is struggling, plan a meeting with your child’s teacher to gather feedback on your child’s struggles or ask if there are remedial lessons that your child can sign up for to cope with the subject.

Shaken Confidence due to Bad-Grades

It is also common to find children who excelled in primary school struggling in the same subjects at secondary level. This could affect their confidence and their self-esteem.

Hosanna recalled struggling greatly with separating her identity and self-worth from her school grades a few years back.

“When I got a dismal grade, I would feel like a complete failure and even wondered what the point of my life was – just because of a bad grade!” she laughed. Fortunately for Hosanna, she had a supportive environment and was strong enough to pick herself up, reminding herself of her other innate talents and skills.

Studies show that students in Singapore have higher anxiety levels as compared to their international counterparts. There is also a sharp increase in the number of children seeking professional help to cope with stress.

Psychiatrists and psychologists alike are seeing up to 50% more cases today as compared to five years ago. Furthermore, patients are getting younger and even include lower-primary students. Stress can cause anxiety, depression, sleep problems, social withdrawal, angry outburst, obsessive compulsive behaviour, and even self-harm in some cases.

What Parents Can Do:
Adjusting to a demanding schedule in secondary school is stressful for a child. You can show support for your child without adding additional pressure. Keep in mind that grades do not define your child. As a parent, help your teen find their own self-worth by exploring other talents or skills they may have.

Be optimistic and empathetic. Let your teen know that you have faith in their abilities and that you know they are trying their best. Let them know that you will always be there to listen and help.

You can also boost their self-esteem by helping them set achievable goals and milestones, according to their abilities. This could give them the confidence they need to persevere through a challenging period.