So, You Have a Middle-Schooler!
Last month’s newsletter covered thoughts and advice for parents of high-schoolers; this month we are focusing on middle-schoolers. The middle school years are a time full of great change and often, no small amount of dread. It’s also a time when parents need to muster up all the peace, love, and understanding that they’re able. Most middle-schoolers likely decide that their parents don’t know anything, they are over-protective, and that they just aren’t cool. Pre-teens are becoming more independent and the transition from elementary school may well cause a good deal of unease as they navigate their new social setting. By the end of their first year, they think they have everything figured out, but over the following two years it can be a bit of a wild ride for students, parents and teachers. Mood swings run rampant, popularity becomes an over-riding concern, and body image, and friends become important in their developing minds. How can parents help and guide them?
Maintain a good homework routine by having a set time and place for your child to complete homework each night. When he finishes his homework ask to see it, not to review or correct it, but to make sure it’s completed. If he asks for help with an assignment, give assistance and help him work out a particular problem, but leave the overall checking and corrections to the teacher. And, importantly, make sure his phone and other technology are some place other than where he is working. These devices are major distractions, so have them put away during this set homework time.
Stay in touch with teachers and if your school has an on-line parent portal/student management system, sign into it on a regular basis. Parent portals typically allow parents to keep up with assignments, grades, attendance and over-all progress, as well as providing them with an easy way to stay in touch with teachers. It’s much better to stay on top of school work as your child moves through the year rather than getting to the end of a grading period only to find that there were mounting problems and concerns. It’s best to tackle issues week by week as they come up.
Introduce yourself to the school counselor and, if needed, let her be a resource for you. The counselor can be a great source of information and she can act as an intermediary between you and the school staff should there be a need. She can also be a good sounding board if you are having frustrations with your child. She has a different credibility than a parent, so let her be a part of your child’s success team.
Here’s a hard one for many parents: don’t rescue your child from natural consequences. You’ve been nurturing and protecting your child for many years, so it’s going to be hard to step back and let him go through potentially hard times, but if you cushion him from his accountability when he has done something wrong, when will he learn to be responsible? As a parent, you’ve already set up expectations, rules, and boundaries. Your middle-schooler will no doubt test these limits, because it's a natural part of growing up. But, if he flunks a test, misses an assignment, or gets into trouble with other, he has to learn from the experience.
Be aware of technology. The technology and connectivity mobile devices provide is wonderful, but they can also be a problem. Middle schoolers love the social aspect that they maintain with friends while on their phones, tablets and laptops, but they can also get caught up in situations that they shouldn’t be in.Parents need to monitor websites visited, be aware of who their child is communicating with on social sites, and be on the look-out for on-line bullying. Your child needs to learn how to use these devices appropriately and he needs to stay safe.
Help your middle-schooler broaden his social circle by finding opportunities to make new friends outside of school. Bullying, popularity struggles and ever-changing bff’s, make it too easy for the social side of the school experience to become a nightmare. By finding groups outside of school that focus on your child’s interests you are giving him the opportunity to get to know others who have the same interests. Consider enrolling your child in a dance class, boy scouts or girl scouts, or a music group outside the school setting. You’ll be encouraging your child to explore and follow his passion and giving him a chance to grow. Also, your he will have the benefit of having friends outside of school.
Good luck with these middle school years! Stay involved, stay alert, have patience, ask for help and accept the support that is there for you. And remember, even though middle-schoolers tend to regard their parents as un-cool, over-protective worrywarts, one day, when they are grown and have children of their own, you’ll be the smartest parent ever. Hang in there!