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 lifestage 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 can think back to our own teenage years and what seemed like the most important things back then. “We need to understand that the same need for peer acceptance still exists; manifested through ‘FOMO’ (Fear Of Missing Out), their obsession with selfies and social media,” Melissa says.

Wellbeing tools

It’s important that, at school, they are given the tools to be able to build healthy and positive relationships. “Skills such as how to address healthy relationships, dealing with conflict, and having the resilience to do that is key. We recently held a workshop in conjunction with Scotch College addressing these skills, which included guest speakers, hearing from recent alumni from both schools and engaging in mixed group activities. It was very well-received by the students.”

Wellbeing is at the centre of personal development at this stage of a student’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 as fostering long term success and happiness, as providing opportunity and subject choices.”

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. Sending your daughter off for eight weeks 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!”

Personalised learning

It’s also a changing time for teenagers in regards to their stage of schooling and academic future. “Middle School is a time where students can personalise their learning,” Melissa explains. “Through 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 find out what their passions and interests are.

A fresh start

Apart from Year 7, Year 9 is another major intake year for MLC, which sees many new students join. It’s certainly not a disadvantage to join the school mid-way through secondary schooling, she emphasises.

“In Years 7 and 8, our students have their classes mostly with their home groups. In the middle years, they have the opportunity to personalise their learning through an increase of subject choice. This means that they’ll be in classes with other students of the same interests, and we find that many new friendships form during this time. 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.

“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