by Joyce Wilson
Middle school, which is typically comprised of grades six, seven, and eight, is a time of great change for students, most of whom are beginning to form their identity. While some students’ middle school experience can be made even more stressful by moving towns or cities, the struggles which face middle school-aged children tend to be universal. Parents should be prepared for the often perplexing changes their child will exhibit, equipping themselves with the tools to understand and facilitate their child’s physical and mental transition.
A New Age, a New Set of Challenges
Typically, middle schoolers in the United States are aged between 11 and 14. This is a time when a young person is experiencing biological processes which result in behavioral changes often beyond their control, many of which are not considered positive.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, children at this age face challenges which are physical, emotional/psychological, intellectual, social, and moral/ethical. Parents must understand what changes typically are taking place in middle schoolers to help their child overcome these confusing challenges.
Physically, puberty leads to changes in appearance and stature which can result in lowered self-confidence, which exacerbates emotions that make them self-conscious and sensitive to criticism. While they tend to be intellectually hungry, this typically manifests in the form of real-world experience: developing friendships and other relationships. Contrarily, middle schoolers tend to be less receptive to academic information. Often, grades will slip due to preoccupation with forming relationships and establishing their modes of interaction with peers.
A middle schooler’s natural drive toward individuality and independence can lead to rebellion and distancing from one’s parents. They also tend to begin forming a personal sense of morality that can lead to dissenting thought within the home or toward authority in general, instead turning to friend groups as their closest confidants.
Allowing a child to establish their own identity is crucial, but permitting a middle schooler to form their own set of rules and attitudes is not the answer, either.
Finding the Line Between Guidance and Independence
Children spend about 50 percent less time with their parents in middle school than in their elementary years. While granting space is a necessary aspect of identity formation, parents should not take a hands-off approach.
Parents should continue to promote family activities, though not as a substitute for a child’s activities with peers who constitute a positive influence. Setting clear, fair rules is the first step in allowing your child to pursue independence on responsible terms.
It is also important to ensure that a child does not indulge the temptation to neglect their studies, as this can form negative habits that persist into high school. There are a number of ways that parents can keep their child motivated to excel in their schoolwork, and utilizing tips which foster long-term organizational skills is one of the greatest benefits a parent can impart on their child in terms of educational and professional success.
Be vigilant toward whom your child is surrounding himself with, as peer influences are one of the greatest indicators of whether a young person will have positive or negative self-esteem. Surrounding oneself with well-adjusted peers who exhibit prosocial traits promotes a strong moral compass that serves as a universal guiding light when it comes to decision making and reacting to peer pressure.
The social and behavioral changes that come with middle school are perhaps most important when employing strategic parental guidance, but preparing a child for the more micro details of enrolling in a new school must not be ignored.
A New School, a New Routine
Most children must feel comfortable in their surroundings to fully thrive and exercise good habits and decision making. Getting your child acclimated to their new school begins with familiarizing them with the building before the first day of the school year.
Whether it means taking occasional walks around the school’s neighborhood or participating in a tour of the school, familiarity breeds comfort. Comfort is difficult to find for a middle schooler, so make sure that you impart organizational skills that they will be less-than-eager to adopt.
Preparing your child with the skills and items – folders, binders, pencils, etc. – which are required can give them a boost toward establishing a good rapport with their teachers, who in turn can serve as a network of mentors during such a trying time.
Changing schools, usually an unavoidable aspect of starting middle school, is never easy. The biological changes that drive attitude and identity formation make the transition even more confusing and anxiety-inducing for a young person.
For parents, understanding is the first step toward helping. Once they understand the changes the child is experiencing – changes every parent went through themselves – they can begin to effectively assist their child without infringing on their budding sense of individuality and self-identity.