In middle school, students begin making choices that affect the rest of their lives. Many will start selecting classes that will help them on the path to college. Some will deal with bullies for the first time, while others might find and nurture a talent. For parents, guiding children through this complicated process can seem challenging.
Here are a few tips from educators and parents to help deal with the transition:
Personal responsibility: By the time children enter middle school, they have become old enough to take more responsibility for their education, said Cynthia Debussy, a PTA parent in Huntington Beach, Calif. “Children must develop organization and management skills that help them succeed in their education from here on,” she said. Parents can allow students to set their own sleep schedules and give children more freedom to choose their own styles when shopping for clothing to help them develop their own identity, she said.
At school, parents should regularly check with teachers to ensure students are arriving for classes on time and completing their assignments, she said. Parents can encourage their children to keep calendars and checklists to organize homework and other daily responsibilities, she said.
Extracurricular interests: One of the most exciting aspects of attending middle school is that students can begin exploring individual interests, Debussy said. At this age, children can develop interests in sports, music, drama or other clubs, or take elective classes.
“Encouraging children to sign up for the band or student council or other extracurricular activity can make them feel like they are a part of something,” she said. “These types of activities can provide an outlet for their budding talents.” Extracurricular activities can also tap into their strengths and allow them to get noticed in a public way for the first time, she said.
Physical changes: Perhaps no other aspect of the middle school years can cause as much anxiety for parents as the physical changes that come along for students. “It can feel like an awkward time for both parents and children,” Debussy said. “Children’s physical changes can also affect behavior.”
Parents have to let their children know that they will be there for them to provide answers to their questions, no matter how potentially embarrassing, she said. Parents also need to exercise patience, realizing hormones can often lead to extreme mood swings in children.
Bullying basics: Bullying often becomes more prevalent when children ascend to middle school, according to experts. Rosie Shirley-Baldwin, a middle school principal in Placentia, Calif., said parents should investigate what anti-bullying policies a school has in place. Parents should also talk to a counselor or administrator about how they would handle specific incidents. For example, to combat bullying Tuffree provides an email address so students can anonymously report when they experience or witness bullying. Counselors investigate every case thoroughly, the principal said.
Additionally, parents should communicate with children regularly about bullying, including how to respond to bullies and whom to report incidents to at the campus. Students should also understand that when they see another child bullied, they should also feel compelled to report the incident.
Start thinking college: Counselors advise parents to begin thinking about college prep as early as middle school. Enrolling in algebra by the eighth grade will ensure students are ready for advanced math and science classes when they reach high school, they said.
One counselor said, “Parents need to sit down with their child and develop a plan to ensure he completes the courses necessary to enroll in algebra and other core classes.”