The prospect of your daughter entering her teenage years can seem daunting – especially if you haven’t been through it before as a parent.
It’s a scenario that Melissa Lange knows well. An experienced secondary school educator, she is the Head of Middle School (Year 9 and 10) 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.
“It’s a crucial time of change and it is important they are actively engaged in learning and cocurricular to further develop their passions, strengths and interests. Equally as important our students need to feel they belong and they have a high level of support from family, school and peers.”
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.
“One of our initiatives is holding an annual workshop in conjunction with a nearby boys' school,” Melissa says. “We work with students to develop these skills, the workshop also includes guest speakers, hearing from recent alumni from both schools and engaging in mixed group activities. It’s very well-received by the students.” Other wellbeing programs and workshops cover topics such as work-ready skills, sleep nutrition and mental health.
Wellbeing is at the centre of personal development at this stage of a teenager’s development. “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.”
It’s also a changing time for teenagers in regard to their stage of schooling and academic future. “Middle School is a time where students can personalise their learning,” Melissa explains. “Through vast subject breadth, 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 of today’s students, actually don’t exist yet!
MLC Marshmead - what's it about?
Many are curious about MLC’s renowned Marshmead program for Year 9s, where students spend eight weeks living in houses of eight students and running a farm. It becomes a cornerstone of a student’s learning journey and centres around three pillars of sustainability: environmental, personal and community.
Sending your daughter off for eight weeks (with parents' visiting weekend in the middle!) can seem like a daunting prospect, but the unique program, which started back in 1991, has seen thousands of students transformed from the experience. “The parents who initially gulp are absolute converts once they see their daughters go through it!”
A fresh start
For some teenagers they may decide they need a change, or their current school does not offer them the choice of subjects they need or the pathway options for Year 11 and 12.
Year 9 can be an intake year which sees many new students join. It’s certainly not a disadvantage to join the school mid-way through secondary schooling. In the 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 often form new friendships during this time.
“In younger years the learning structure is more of a silo,” Melissa says, “But in Middle School it’s a time that everybody is spreading their wings, so it’s easy for students to come in new.”
Whilst it can seem like an adjustment period for both parents and students, the importance of this time of personal growth cannot be underestimated.
“At MLC 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