Middle school can be tough on both parents and kids. Not only are kids moving on to new schools with older students, but they also are going through physical and emotional development that, at times, can seem overwhelming. If you’re a parent facing middle school with your child, like myself, you and your child may have some concerns. But, if you both come to the table organized and prepared, the transition to middle school won’t be so bad (fingers crossed:).
Recognize the Fears
Kids’ vision of middle school comes from TV, the movies, books and horror stories told by friends and family. Have a discussion with your child to see what their worries are about middle school. At our middle school parent orientation, the principal told us that most kids are worried about the three “Ls”….Lockers, Lunch and Getting Lost.
We were reassured that for the first couple of weeks, the kids will get a lot of handholding and that most catch on quickly to the new routine and logistics of the new school. Other middle school concerns are about student’s new responsibilities and taking ownership of them. Our middle schooler is now expected to budget their time, record homework assignments and get to class promptly with the right supplies.
Middle school is often the first time that a student has a lock on their locker. If your child is worried about working the lock, have them practice on one at home. If you can have access to their lock before school starts, being able to memorize the combination and work the lock will be two fewer things to worry about on the first day of school.
Lunch can be stressful in a couple of different ways. Kids are worried that they won’t have enough time to eat and that they won’t have anyone to sit with. Walking into a crowded cafeteria can be intimidating for many kids. It may be helpful for your child to strategize ahead of time and make plans with a friend to set together at lunch.
Middle schoolers have more lunch options than they did in elementary school, but that comes with an added cost. I’ve heard a few horror stories about kids burning through their lunch accounts. You will want to keep an eye on what your student is eating and it may be helpful to have a conversation about what they can and can’t purchase. A few parents said that they compromised with their child and let them purchase a “treat” once a week.
If your child is worried about getting lost, now is a good time to visit their new school. Walk through their schedule, if it’s available, or if not, at least pick out landmarks like the gym, cafeteria and library. Our school offers an optional “Welcome to Middle School” class, where they show the kids how to unlock their lockers, take a tour of the school and review what will be expected of them in middle school. If that’s something offered at your school, you may want to sign your child up for it.
Organization is key to a student’s success in middle school. About a week or so before school starts, have a conversation with your child about expectations for the upcoming school year. Ask them what goals they want to accomplish. You want them to have a sense of purpose and ownership in their education. Review the student handbook with your child. It helps for both of you to be on the same page. There are a lot of conversation-starters in there about everything from bullying to cheating to use of cellphones during school hours. And, lastly, talk to your kids about a system to organize school work and the importance of writing down homework assignments.
Technology, Friends and Bullying
In addition to the academic challenges of middle school there’s also all the social issues that parents and kids will need to navigate. Middle school, will unfortunately, always be filled with drama, it’s just the age and stage. Some of it we can relate to, some of it we can’t. Middle-schoolers today are bombarded by outside pressures we never had to deal with, which stems primarily from technology and media and the pervasive role that it plays in kids’ lives today.
Most middle schoolers have access to some sort of electronic device and are starting to develop on-line relationships. Middle-schoolers generally do not possess the maturity and self-control to use some of these tools safely and responsibly. If your child has access to the internet and more specifically social media make sure you’ve set some safety and responsibility guidelines.
Through all of this change, your child’s friendships will become one of the most important aspects of their life. No matter your child’s friend group, they might experience friendship drama. Even if it seems silly to you, they are real problems to your child. And, if your middle school is like ours, several schools are funneling into it. Your child will be in class with new people and may need some guidance on making new friends.
It’s never easy to watch your child being bullied. Communication with your child is key when it comes to bullying. For today’s middle schooler there is some concern for the old-school bus bully, but today’s kids are more likely to be bullied on-line through social media. If your child is bullied it’s important to keep records of the bullying and once it’s reported to the school ask for a timeline of how it will be handled.
Nothing is worse for middle schoolers than standing out in a way they haven’t chosen. For a girl, it could mean being the tallest in the class or the most developed; for a boy, it could mean being the shortest or the clumsiest. First, whatever it is about your preteen’s personality or appearance that concerns them, don’t say, “That’s silly,” or “It doesn’t matter.” Minimizing their feelings (even with the best of intentions) will only make them feel more alone. Not only that, but preteens’ self-esteem drops during this time, due to a combination of hormonal activity (remember, that puberty is setting in) and brain development.
Being involved in your child’s education and social life becomes trickier after they leave elementary school. You’re trying to nurture their new-found independence while still trying to be there for them. It’s important to monitor and keep track of grades and activities and keep an eye on their technology usage. It’s also a good time to let your kids practice their problem-solving skills, even if it’s hard for you to watch them struggle. With all the angst of the middle school years, just remember, even if they act like they don’t want or need you, your middle schooler truly needs your unconditional love and support.
Are you ready to transition to middle school? We want to hear how you’re going to survive it!!!