Thriving at school

The following is an extract from Thriving at School: A practical guide to help your child enjoy the crucial school years.


Values come from families, but are fertilised in schools. In a sense, schools are becoming the ‘cathedrals’ of the twenty-first century, and our kids are the trail-blazers of the information age. They live the IT revolution. Learners now have access to anything they need to know at the push of a button.

This is new, exciting and very, very different to when we were kids. But there are other differences, too.

We now have:

  • bigger houses and greater wealth, but smaller backyards and smaller families
  • more technology and multimedia, but less time together and less interaction
  • more opportunities and easier access, but more restrictions and greater fears for our safety, and
  • more material goods at cheaper prices, but more obesity and marketing to younger kids.

The result is we strive to keep our kids happy by giving them more, but we really give less. All these social changes mean that the values of today’s Generation Y are different. If you ask your child about his values, you might be surprised when the Gameboy, computer, MP3 player or mobile phone is mentioned. Values are much more than material goods, and they have a key role to play in learning. They are the springboard for the attitudes that a child demonstrates as a learner.

The new 3Rs for learning

The traditional 3Rs (reading, ’riting and ’rithmetic) may be fine for educating smart kids, but they are not adequate for growing smart learners. We’d like to propose some new 3Rs for learning:

  1. respect
  2. responsibility, and
  3. relationships and social connections.


Any teacher will tell you that learners need to respect themselves, respect others (including the teacher!), respect property and respect the environment. It would be a great boost to children’s chances of thriving at school if parents granted teachers unqualified respect from the start. Surely teachers have earned that right, having dedicated their professional lives to the important and challenging task of educating our children. Teachers, parents and kids all respecting each other – and working together – is the single most powerful value we can develop in a community of learners.



Kids these days have a strong sense of fairness. They are also very quick to assert their own rights. That’s great, but what is often missing from the equation are the responsibilities that inevitably accompany the rights. Kids must take greater responsibility for their actions. And parents must understand that schools have to assert rules to ensure that all kids do act responsibly. Parents often have a different relationship with schools these days: in past generations, if a child came home complaining about something at school, parents would usually jump to the support of the school. These days, however, the reaction is often to question and doubt the school, and trust that our children are right. Taking this stance will very successfully erode the key nexus of kids, parents, teachers and school.

Relationships and social connections


The technological ‘babysitters’ that our kids are growing up with today are wonderfully good at entertaining: they give kids exactly what they want, when they want it, for as long as they want – and they don’t answer back. You would think we should all be truly grateful for such technology, but we aren’t. As a result of such technological generosity, our kids may be less capable of relating to others or forming the social connections that used to be common in childhood. We are now seeing more cases of social dysfunction and conduct disorder than ever before (see Appendix I for more information) – so much so that some schools have introduced social-skills programs to teach kids how to ‘play’ with each other. And the media nannies have also changed parents’ views of the world: we are now anxious about letting our kids out – there are so many dangers. It seems much safer to stay inside the bedroom, connected by wire but disconnected socially.

Our 3Rs are basic. They are about the whole child – respect for adults, responsibility for themselves, and relationships with peers. How can parents promote these values? They’re so basic, they’re caught, not taught – just live them!

Dr John Irvine is an educational psychologist, a consultant psychologist, a counsellor and a widely recognised specialist on children's behaviour. He is the author of significant books for parents such as A Handbook for Happy Families and Who'd be a Parent?.

John Stewart is Head of the Junior School at Central Coast Grammar in NSW, a highly experienced educator and has been teaching in Australia and the UK since 1993. He has a Masters of Education degree from Cambridge University and is the author of an innovative multimedia online textbook, Writeonline.

Thriving at School is published by Finch Publishing RRP $24.95