What parents worry about

2nd June 2006 at 01:00
Risky teenage behaviour is a major concern. Adi Bloom reports

Parents worry more about bullying, drink and drugs than academic achievement when their 11-year-old children start secondary school.

More than half (53 per cent) fear that that their child will be bullied, a survey reveals. One in five worries about the influence of alcohol, drugs and tobacco.

Meanwhile 15 per cent worry their children will not make friends: slightly more than those who fear their children will succumb to peer pressure, or mix with the wrong crowd. By contrast, only 11 per cent are concerned about their child's academic achievement.

Jan Fry, of charity Parentline Plus, which commissioned the poll, said this did not mean that parents were unconcerned about academic performance. "The move at 11 marks a demarcation for parents," she said. "They feel they don't have any influence any more and start to worry about the risky teenage behaviour that comes with secondary school."

Lindsey Tait-Bailey knows that feeling. The 45-year-old's twins, Eliza and Jacob, started secondary in Cheltenham in September.

"I have seen them do well at junior school, so I'm confident in their academic ability," she said. "But the other areas are new. They haven't come up against drugs or alcohol. I like to think I know what choices they'll make. But I don't."

Secondary school, she says, is the great unknown: "Parents walk in and out of junior school. You're involved in your children's lives. Senior school is a huge pond, and there might be sharks in there."

This was a concern for Jacob, 12. While Eliza started at the local comprehensive, he enrolled at Pate's grammar, where he knew no one.

"It's like a big chain," he said. "You have to wedge yourself in there.

They'll say, you can't play with us, and you just feel rejected. You worry, am I going to spend the next six or seven years in misery, because I don't have any friends?"

Both Jacob and Eliza acknow-ledge that their schools focused on reassuring pupils.

Eliza said: "Apart from open day, parents don't see the school. It would be weird having your parents in school now. We're older, and feel more independent."

Ms Fry thinks secondaries should run outreach projects, so parents can meet and discuss how to deal with recalcitrant teenagers.

"Doing well comes with behaving well," she said. "Parents worry about this.

Is the school doing enough to address behaviour? Are parents doing enough to address it? Can they be doing more to work together?"

* adi.bloom@tes.co.uk

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