The middle school years are a roller coaster ride for everyone – kids and parents. The butterfly starts to fight its way out of the cocoon, and sometimes the cocoon has a hard time letting that happen! But parenting is full of passages and changes, and the middle school years represent one of those times – perhaps one of the most important.
The differences between a sixth grader and an eighth grader – physically, emotionally, cognitively, socially – are immense. Most kids come to middle school as children and leave as adolescents. They go through puberty, they grow and develop, and the teenager parents see at eighth grade graduation doesn’t have a lot in common with the child they sent to sixth grade.
In middle school, the students begin to take responsibility for their actions and their choices, and it is the parents’ job to let their child be accountable and take the consequences, good or bad. There will never be a better or a safer time to learn responsibility, independence, and respect for others.
Middle school teachers provide a bridge between the nurturing teachers in elementary school and the content-oriented teachers in high school. They appreciate parents who are involved with their children, communicate with teachers, and take part in the school community, but they worry about parents who “hover”. Helicopter parents do everything for their children and try to keep them from ever experiencing a negative consequence or a negative emotion. The hard truth is that parents have to let their children fail so they can learn how to be successful. Parents have to let their children take the consequences for tardies, missing homework, and misbehavior. They still need to talk with teachers and ask questions, but middle schoolers need lots of room to experience the consequences of their decisions.
Discipline is different at middle school. Teachers and administrators expect students to know the rules and routines of school, and to have the skills to follow those rules and routines. If a child does not have those skills, now is the last chance to do something about it. Parents can talk with the school psychologist or the school counselor to get some ideas and some guidance.
Home/school communication is also different in middle school. Teachers expect students to be fairly independent and responsible, and they don’t hover. They have lots of students to instruct, and they don’t have the time to be anybody’s parent.
Supervision is different in middle school. Students are expected to get off the bus or out of the car and come into school on their own in the morning. They are expected to handle their own materials and their own business. The supervision is there, of course, but it’s much more hands-off.
If something happens at school that raises questions and concerns at home, the most effective thing to do is to set up a parent/teacher conference to discuss the problem. Schedule the conference in advance, let the teacher know the reason for the meeting, and bring a family member or friend along for support. Parents should be prepared to work towards a positive solution to the problem. In many cases, it is appropriate to have the student attend the conference as well. Students at this level are responsible for their own behavior and their own learning.
Experienced teachers will tell you that seventh grade is a pivotal grade for students – particularly boys. This is a time when students either stay engaged and interested in school, or when educators lose them forever. Parents who stay engaged and interested in school have a much better chance of making that happen for their kids as well.
The middle school years are probably the most difficult ones for everyone – students, parents, and teachers. So many physical and social changes are going on, and emotions are high. It’s a time when parents and teachers really need to communicate and work as a team, because it’s a time when kids choose their path – for better or for worse. It takes a village!