What's the big deal about the first week of Secondary School?
Amongst my friends who are parents, it often seems they are more concerned when their child enters into Primary 1 (P1). Less attention seems to be given to the children as they transit to Secondary One. There seems to be an assumption that children should be able to cope better since they have survived Primary School. This might be true to a certain extent. After all, they have managed to overcome their first major hurdle of the education life - Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE). Being in the school system for six years, they should have grasp better with the academic demands and have learnt how to tackle with streams of homework, mid-term tests & exams.
It often slips through the crack to pay attention to our teenage child, to recognize that transiting to secondary school can be equally stressful, if not more. This transition presents a next level of change. It’s a new ball game for them, one that comes with different sets of challenges. These include dealing with the loss of friendships whilst trying to keep up with new academic demands. Of which, the adjustment to a new social environment can be one of the most stressful factor through this transition. Teenagers are at this life stage where friends become a huge part of their life as they grow in their independence (Office of Adolescent Health, 2019). It matters a lot to them whether they fit in or not (Office of Adolescent Health, 2019).
“FOMO” aka fear of missing out aptly describe what matters to our youths today (Gordon, 2019). FOMO refers to feelings of anxiety and nervousness one experience as a result of missing out of a social event (Gordon, 2019). This reflects their immense need to feel belonged and to fit in, not merely to the school environment, but to their peers. In other words, when a teenager struggles to fit in and feels left out from his/her peers, it is likely going to mean a great deal to him/her.
"FOMO" (Fear of Missing Out) refers to feelings of anxiety and nervousness one experience as a result of missing out of a social event (Gordon, 2019).
In particular, for teenagers who are more introverted, quiet and reserved, this may be something of concern. As they are less socially confident, they may find it harder to connect with others. Some may even feel left out or socially awkward with their peers. Yet, this group of individuals may likely be the obedient and compliant child at home and in school. They may even be adjusting well to the requirements of school work; doing well for examinations. On the surface, one may assume they are coping well to the new secondary school. However, one may fail to notice their struggles in adjusting to the new social environment. In some scenarios, they may even become objects of bullying; being labelled as the outcast.
Yet, it is also during this transition period that parent-child relationship starts to change (Riera, n.d.). When your child was still studying in Primary School, most of the decisions were mostly made by you (Riera, n.d.) – which school to attend; which enrichment classes to take; who to take care of them after school and many more. When they faced challenges in primary school, they would likely turn to you for help. However, this relationship has changed now, as your child turns into an adolescent. He/she may prefer to seek help from their peers, or likely depend on self to manage the problems.
In Search of an Identity
According to Erik Erikson’s 8 stages of psychosocial development stages, all of us experience eight stages of development throughout our life, starting from infant to late adulthood (Cherry, 2019). At each stage, there is a psychological crisis or task that we need to overcome in order to build a healthy sense of self (Cherry, 2019). If we fail to overcome these tasks, we may develop feelings of inadequacy (Cherry, 2019).
Children, aged 6 to 12, has to overcome the “school age” stage, namely the task of industry vs inferiority (Lumen Learning, n.d.). During this stage, children begin to compare themselves with their peers (Lumen Learning, n.d.), from academics to CCA performance, from social activities to family life and even the material possessions they have. If they perceive that they are not good enough, an “inferiority complex might develop into adolescence and adulthood” (Lumen Learning, n.d.)
Teenagers, aged 13 to 18, are transiting into the “adolescence” stage, facing with the task of identity vs role confusion (Lumen Learning, n.d.). At this stage, they are trying to develop a sense of self. They often struggle with questions such as “Who am I?” and “What do I want to do with my life?” (Lumen Learning, n.d.) In their search for their identity, they may derive their identity from finding themselves through their relationships with others. How they view themselves may be greatly affected by how others view them, or how others respond to them.
Hence, teenagers who are struggling to make social connections with their peers, will feel socially inadequate. This may in turn affect their self-esteem and their self-concept negatively, causing them to further isolate and withdraw themselves from social situations. This fear of interacting with others, or being involved in social situations may result in social anxiety.
What is Social Anxiety?
Social anxiety is “intense anxiety or the fear of being judged, negatively evaluated or rejected in a social or performance situation.” (ADAA, n.d.) As a result of this intense anxiety or fear, a person’s daily life may be disrupted to varying degrees. Some may avoid attending gatherings and parties to avoid stressful social situations; others may find it extremely distressing to even attend school (ADAA, n.d.). This, if not treated early and properly, may develop into social anxiety disorder, where the child is completely isolated from others, and may not be able to cope with the anxiety and distress of being in a social situation.
Social anxiety is “intense anxiety or the fear of being judged, negatively evaluated or rejected in a social or performance situation.”
The average onset of social anxiety is usually during teenage years, around 13 years old (Albano, 2014). However, symptoms can be observed as early as when the child is about 3 to 4 years old (Albano, 2014), as observed from the child’s interactional patterns with others.
How to tell if your child may be struggling with social anxiety?
Some symptoms which may indicate possible social anxiety challenges are (Albano, 2014):
Is your child uncomfortable speaking to teachers or peers?
Does he or she avoid eye contact, mumble or speak quietly when addressed by other people?
Does your child blush or tremble around other people?
Does your child cry or throw a tantrum when confronted with new people?
Does your child express worry excessively about doing or saying something “stupid”?
Does your child or teen complain of stomach-aches and want to stay home from school, field trips or parties?
Is he or she withdrawing from activities and wanting to spend more time at home?
How can parents help?
Social anxiety, like all other forms of anxiety, are present to protect us from danger, perceived or real. However, when the fear becomes too overwhelming, in spite the lack of real danger, it is extremely distressing for the sufferer. Most of the time, people who have social anxiety are aware of how irrational the fear is, but yet feel helpless in managing it (ADAA, n.d.). However, if help is given to the teenager struggling with relationships at an earlier stage, it is usually easier for the teenager to overcome it. Hence, parents play an important role in recognizing social anxiety traits in their children (Albano, 2014). If parents can reach out to their teenager, and encourage them to seek professional help earlier (Albano, 2014), effective and specific interventions can be implemented to support them in their healing journey.
At times, people who have social anxiety are aware of how irrational the fear is, but yet feel helpless in managing it (ADAA, n.d.).
For some, overcoming social anxiety may be as easy as learning a few effective skills in improving one’s social skills. Yet, for others, social anxiety could be extremely debilitating. This is because every child is different and unique. The reasons behind their social anxiety may differs greatly from one child to another. Hence, understanding the root cause from your child’s story is key to supporting your child to recovery.
Counselling could help your child to gain better self-awareness, greater understanding of his/her social anxiety, and in the process, he/she can learn effective and targeted skills on overcoming his/her fear of social situations. Our team of counsellors has experience working with adolescents and young adults to navigate through life challenges like transition changes, anxiety and depression. If you will like to find out more about how counselling could be a resource for your child, you can make an appointment with us.
Albano, A. M. (Aug 12 2014). When Young People Suffer Social Anxiety Disorder: What Parents Can do. Retreived from Care For Your Mind on 8 Jan 2020: http://careforyourmind.org/when-young-people-suffer-social-anxiety-disorder-what-parents-can-do/
Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) (n.d.) Understanding the Facts: Social Anxiety Disorder. Retrieved on 8 Jan 2020: https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/social-anxiety-disorder
Cherry, K. (Sept 05, 2019). Erik Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development. Retrieved from Verywellmind on 6 Jan 2020:
Gordon, S. (October 07, 2019). How FOMO Impacts Teens and Young Adults. Retrieved from VeryWell Family on 11 Jan 2020: https://www.verywellfamily.com/how-fomo-impacts-teens-and-young-adults-4174625
Lumen Learning (n.d.) Erikson’s 8 Stages of Psychosocial Development. Retrieved on 6 Jan 2020: https://courses.lumenlearning.com/teachereducationx92x1/chapter/eriksons-stages-of-psychosocial-development/
Office of Adolescent Health (March 25, 2019). Healthy Friendships in Adolescence. Retrieved from US Department of Health & Human Services on 11 Jan 2020: https://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/adolescent-development/healthy-relationships/healthy-friendships/index.html
Riera, M. (n.d.). Managing vs Consulting Your Teenager. Retrieved from Kids In The House on 6 Jan 2020: https://www.kidsinthehouse.com/teenager/parenting-teens/bonding-with-your-teen/managing-vs-consulting-your-teenager
About the Author
Hui Shan is currently the Head of Operations in Grace Oasis Counselling Services. Prior to this, she was a teacher with the Ministry of Education (MOE) with over 10 years of teaching experience in local schools. She has vast experience working with youths and sees the frequent challenges faced by most teens centers around either performance or relationships; both integral in their identity formation.