How to Help Your Middle School Child Succeed
Source: Meryl Ain, Ed.D.
I have worked in schools at every level, and I will tell you that the most challenging is the middle school. Having survived this period with my own three sons, I believe the most difficult age is the year between twelve and thirteen years old. But the entire middle school experience is a trial for both parents and children. Throughout the middle school years -- at home and at school -- children can be restless and defiant, and unduly influenced by their peers. This is the time they are discovering who they are just when their hormones are raging and their bodies are changing.
In the midst of these changes, young people leave the cocoon of their elementary schools. Middle schools are larger than elementary schools; there are more classes and teachers, and the work is more demanding. So how can parents empower themselves to help their children succeed now that they are in middle school? What is the best way to communicate with teachers and other middle school personnel? How can you nurture your child's emerging independence at the same time that you keep a watchful eye on his/her activities?
Here are some tips:
- It is normal for your child to be anxious about entering middle school, but if you have concerns, please don't express them to your child. Express confidence and optimism about his/her ability to meet the new challenges, and show that you support your child's emerging independence.
- Many parents drop out of sight when their children reach middle school. This is a big mistake. Unlike elementary schools, there is usually not a need for class mothers and volunteers in the classrooms. But you should still remain actively involved. Go to PTA meetings, join committees, or volunteer to chaperone school dances and other activities. When parents are invited to events, such as meetings, concerts, plays, open houses, conferences and special programs, make it your business to attend.
- Know the names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of all your children's teachers, principal, other middle school administrators, counselors, and school nurse. By all means, contact them if you have questions or concerns.
- Know your school and school district websites, and check them frequently for calendar changes, meeting announcements and minutes, news, policies and procedures, and other information.
- Find out how your school communicates important information to parents and then be alert to those messages. Is it by automated phone message, e-mail blasts, electronically through systems such as Parent Portal, newsletters, snail-mail, or in your kids' backpacks?
- Keep the school calendar in an accessible area and check it frequently.
- Help your child with organizational skills, including managing homework. Find out what method the school uses for contacting parents and helping students stay on top of homework, such as agendas or Internet sites.
- Get to know all of your child's teachers. Ask about their expectations, as well as homework and testing.
- As much as your child may act like he/she is not interested in talking to you, try to engage him/her in conversation on a regular basis. Be a good listener. Show a genuine interest in his/her studies, activities and friends. Show sincere attention even if your child acts like he/she does not want to be in your company. If you keep up the communication, she/he will know you will be there when advice is needed.
- Since the middle school years are the period when young people are forging their identity, it is the ideal time for them to explore their interests. Encourage them to become involved in extra-curricular activities, such as music, sports, social action, etc., so they can hone their talents and skills.
Peer pressure becomes paramount at this age. Pay attention to who your child's friends are. Know where your child is at all times.
- Be alert to signs that others are unduly influencing your child.
- Pick your issues carefully. Is it more important to take a stand on fashion or values, messy room or drugs? Try to decide ahead of time where you will take your stand.
- Insist on good attendance. If your child misses school for a legitimate reason, make it clear he/she needs to keep up with schoolwork. Contact the school to make arrangements.
Middle school can be a bewildering time, for parents as well as children. Your child is becoming more autonomous, but still needs your support, engagement, encouragement, and understanding. Stay involved in your child's school. Research indicates that the more involved parents are, the more successful their own children will be.
Dr. Meryl Ain has worked in several large Long Island, New York school districts as a central office administrator, teacher, and school building administrator. Her articles have appeared in The New York Times, Huffington Post, and Newsday's Parents and Children Magazine. She shares her insights and expertise on her blog, Your Education Doctor and on Twitter via @DrMerylAin. Dr. Ain offers consulting and other professional service to individuals, groups, teachers and school districts.