A letter to my niece before she starts high school …
My gorgeous 12 yo niece Elouise starts high school next week and so this week I sat her down to give her some Aunt-to-niece advice about what i wanted her to know.
Below is what I told her.
Of course she’s used to hearing me bang on about finidng your tribe (though you can never say it enough!!). But I came up with four other points I wanted to really talk through with her … everything from how most bullying starts to playing team sport to working to be a part of her new school community.
Anyway — here’s my advice to my two nieces Elouise and Emily and to every other tween and teen who is heading to high school next week.
I’ll be thinking of you all! (Nerves are normal!!)
1. Find Your Tribe
I know, I know. I’ve been banging on about this for about a decade but frankly it feels truer now than ever. There is not much you can control in your life when you’re a tween or a teen. But the one thing – and possibly the MOST IMPORTANT thing – which you *can* control is WHO YOU CHOOSE TO HANG AROUND. Find your tribe. Your tribe are those people who get you. Who share your core values. They like you for who you are and they’ve got your back. These are the friends who are loyal and kind and you feel good about yourself when you’re with them. Any fights or spats you have with them are minor and it’s only good natured teasing that occurs (any really mean teasing is unintentional and true friends will apologise). If you’re spending your time hanging out with girls (or boys) who routinely put you down, make fun of you and humiliate you then MOONWALK OUT OF THERE, SISTER! Most importantly true friends bring out your best. If you don’t like who you are and how you behave when you’re with your current friends — that’s a big red flag.
Now you might have a tribe of five friends – terrific! But all you need is one true friend whom you can trust.
Keep in mind that sometimes it takes a while to find a person from your tribe. Sometimes you’re a bad fit for the school you’re in. Hang in there. Seek out friends outside of school who ‘get you’. Bide your time. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with YOU just because you haven’t found that great friend just yet.
BONUS ADVICE: If your goal is to be happy in high school (and that’s every student’s goal, isn’t it?) … keep in mind that research tells us that the biggest driver of happiness is time spent IN PERSON with authentic friends (someone from your tribe!). No amount of texting, Skype messaging or Whatsapping comes close to being in person with your favourite friend where you feel safe to vent and be your true, daggy self. Keep that in mind throughout your life — always prioritise in person catch ups.
2. Understand The Destructive Nature Of Gossip And Work Out Who To Vent To
High schools run on gossip. Stories. Rumours. Whispers. And according Rosalind Wiseman – author of “Queen Bees And Wannabes: Helping your daughter survive cliques, gossip, boyfriends and the new realities of girl world” girls in upper primary school and high school see gossip as a way to bond. BUT it’s also how they wage war on each other and humiliate each other. Nearly every teenage girl (and every woman) gossips to some degree but let’s be clear — gossip is the source of pretty much all high school drama and bullying, The more you engage in destructive gossip, the more you get involved in spreading rumours about other students, the more tumultuous your high school days will be. Information is power in high school – I get it. But it comes at a cost. And that cost can be extraordinarily high when that gossip forms part of a full-scale bullying campaign designed to isolate and embarrass someone. Lives can be destroyed especially when rumour-spreading happens online.
Wiseman makes three things very clear in her book:
* How much you gossip (as a parent) directly influences how much your child gossips.
* The younger you give your child a mobile phone or device, the sooner she’ll be exposed to and participate in gossip (think Skype Messenger, WhatsApp and even just text messaging)
* There is a difference between venting and gossiping Everyone needs to vent (or debrief) when something big has happened. True friends won’t spread your confidences as gossip (creating enormous turmoil for you). Be careful with your words both about yourself and about others. Wherever possible, choose kind. And share your own personal stories and secrets ONLY with those friends who have proven themselves to have your back. You can find Rosalind Wiseman’s book here: https://www.booktopia.com.au/queen-bees-and-wannabes-rosalind-wiseman/prod9780749924379.html?gclid=EAIaIQobChMInPmNzf3a2AIVUgwrCh10RQ_1EAAYASAAEgKodPD_BwE
3. Join In.
This is the great secret to enjoying high school which I wish someone had told me at the time. JOIN IN. Become a part of the community. Participate. Another one of the big drivers of happiness is when we feel like we’re part of a community, when we feel KNOWN. Walking into a place and having teachers and reception staff and the tuckshop volunteers say, “Good morning, Bec!” can make a big difference in how you feel about yourself and school. It sounds hokey but it can help you feel safe and cared about. But there’s only so much schools can do as they try to get to know all the students. So you have to step up. Join in. Volunteer. When there’s a students versus teachers basketball match on at lunchtime – GO. By letting the teachers get to know you, you’ll in turn feel like you’re part of something an belong.
4. People Can Be Jerks But That’s Not Bullying
When I was in year 8, every afternoon as I walked to the bus stop a boy in my class would yell out, “See you, Rubella!” Rubella instead of Rebecca. Get it? Hilarious (not). So would you call that bullying? Nope. That, my friends, is called HIGH SCHOOL. David called me Rubella every day and I replied every afternoon with “Shut up, moron!” and kept walking. #goodtimes #clearlynotchoosingkindinthatmoment
For something to be bullying it has to not only be repeated more than once, there also has to be a power imbalance. There wasn’t a power imbalance between David and me. I wasn’t intimidated or threatened or scared of him. People in high school can be jerks. People will be mean. They’ll behave badly. Welcome to life! This is why you want to work on your resilience and your inner grit and find ways to brush off those moments. That said, the moment you feel “ganged up on” and/or scared is when you go to an adult in your life and let them know.
5. Play A Team Sport
Exercise is great but that’s not why I want my nieces to continue playing team sports. Research shows that playing a team sport builds your self-esteem, your confidence, helps with goal setting and teaches you about team work. When homework and assignments and study is all too much — there’s something about MOVING and pushing your body and getting sweaty that is so good for your head.
I’m a proud Ambassador for the #TeamGirls movement which is all about creating a nation of confident girls, because you know what else team sport does for teenagers? It can give them a sense of belonging. Win or lose, there’s something magic about being a part of a team and sharing those moments.
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Over the past 25 years Rebecca Sparrow has earned a living as a travel writer, a television publicist, a marketing executive, a magazine editor, a TV scriptwriter, a radio producer, a newspaper columnist and as an author.