Didn’t it seem like yesterday that your daughter was just learning to walk, or starting primary school? 

Before you know it, she’ll be in the middle of her teenage years, and the prospect can seem daunting – especially if you haven’t been through it before as a parent. 

The start of secondary school is a major milestone for many, but then there are those middle years of Year 9 and 10 where suddenly, your daughter goes from innocent tween to all-knowing teen. 

It’s a scenario that Melissa Lange knows well. An experienced secondary school educator, she is the Head of Middle School at Methodist Ladies’ College in Kew and works through this life stage of teenagers every day. She is also the mother to two teenage daughters herself. 

“Fourteen is a pivotal age,” Melissa says. “It can be trying for some parents in this adjustment period. But it’s actually normal for a teenager to stop confiding, for example, which can be hard to accept as a parent, but it’s important to give them space to grow.” 

 “We need to understand that the same need for peer acceptance we experienced still exists; manifested through ‘FOMO’ (Fear Of Missing Out), their obsession with selfies and social media influencers,” Melissa says. 

“Year 9 is a time of curiosity, independence and exploration. It’s a crucial time of change and it is important they are actively engaged in learning and cocurricular programs to further develop their passions, strengths and interests. Equally as important our students need to feel they belong and to know they have a high level of support from family, school and peers.” 

Wellbeing tools

Wellbeing is at the centre of personal development at this stage of a teenager’s development. 

It’s important that teenagers are given the tools to be able to build healthy and positive relationships. Schools should provide the avenue to learn skills such as how to address healthy relationships, dealing with conflict, and having the resilience to deal with these situations.  

“I like to say that ‘it’s EQ as much as their IQ’, with E standing for emotional,” Melissa explains. “It’s just as important to  foster long term success and happiness, as it is to ensure they are at a school that provides opportunity and the right subject choices.” 

Parents should also act as a guide as their teenagers navigate through these years and develop their life skills. 

“It’s a team effort,” Melissa says. “You’re there to listen, whilst allowing for your child’s privacy when they need it. At the end of the day, it’s about providing an safe environment where each student feels known and valued, where school and home work in partnership together so that students are free to experiment and explore, to make mistakes and to grow. 

Personalised learning

It’s also a changing time for teenagers in regard to their stage of schooling and academic future. “This is a time where students can personalise their learning,” Melissa explains. “Through subject breadth, at MLC we encourage each student to stretch and challenge themselves. It’s a chance for students to explore new pathways and start the process of identifying what their strengths and interests are.” 

This is especially important in leading up to choosing academic options in the last two years of their schooling, such as whether to study the VCE (Victorian Certificate of Education), Vocational Education and Training (VET) or IB (international Baccalaureate).  You don't want to limit their opportunities as they discover their passions and interests.. 

School should also provide career guidance to students as they navigate these decisions, as they will have the most up-to-date information about university courses and career paths. It’s also worthy to note that many of the careers that will be available to today’s students, actually don’t exist yet! 

A fresh start

For some teenagers they may decide it’s time for a change, or their current school does not offer them the choice of subjects they need or the pathway options in Year 11 and 12.  

At many schools, Year 9 is an intake year which sees many new students join. It’s certainly not a disadvantage to join the school mid-way through secondary schooling. 

“Year 9 is a time that everybody is spreading their wings, so it’s easy for students to join new,” says Melissa, who sees new Year 9s join MLC every year. 

In these middle years, students have the opportunity to customise their learning through an increase of subject choice. This means that they’ll be in classes with other students of the same interests, and they often form new friendships during this time. 

Whilst it can seem like an adjustment period for both parents and students, the importance of this time of personal growth cannot be underestimated. 

“Our girls are different people when they leave Middle School from when they enter it,” Melissa says. “But we want them to be different. We want to see that they have grown and developed. 

“I like to think of Year 9 as fine-tuning who they are,” she finishes, “and Year 10 is knowing that, and doing something with it.”

MLC Head of Middle School, Melissa Lange with Year 9 students