The school year is here! Many of us have kiddos entering middle school – including me as my little Clara begins fifth grade. Recently, I sat down with my resident seventh grader, Alexis, to get her advice for fifth and sixth graders as they make the transition. I’ve expanded on her advice with some thoughts of my own as a parent, professional educator, and repeater of eighth grade. (All right, I didn’t repeat eighth grade when I was a kid, but in graduate school I spent a year as a one-to-one teachers aide so I got to experience all the fun — read: drama — of middle school again at the age of 25.)
Alexis Says: “You have to keep up with your work. If not, you’ll be embarrassed because others – your teachers and your classmates – will expect you to have your work done. You’ll have more teachers and you won’t like all of them . . . but they also have more students so you won’t get as much individual treatment as you did in elementary school. You have to take care of yourself.”
So, Moms . . .
Remember when your baby was taking her first steps and you let her fall down in safe circumstances so that she would learn to get up again? Middle school is kind of like that when it comes to school work. Around the time of entering into middle school, kids are developing a sense of industry. It’s up to parents and teachers to help nourish this sense.
Middle school is the time to allow your child to begin to learn how to manage his or her own time and tasks. At times, you might need to step back and allow your child to ~ gasp ~ fail. Turning in a late assignment, flubbing a quiz, or not coming to class prepared has consequences and letting your child experience these consequences will help ensure that behavior will change. There’s nothing wrong with checking in with your kiddo about what is due, issuing reminders, or sitting down to help with homework, but don’t fall into the habit of making excuses for your child or doing the work yourself if it’s not done. Praise your child’s independent strides when it comes to school work. By helping your child learn these habits now, he or she will be a better student when the stakes are even higher.
Alexis Says: “There’s a lot of drama in middle school, and you have to find friends that don’t make you feel like you’re fighting all the time. Drama is normal in relationships. You should have friends that make you feel like you can be yourself. And, another thing – crushes. There are never serious relationships in middle school, so it’s not the end of the world when your relationship is over after a week. Your priorities shouldn’t involve your crushes anyway; they should involve your school work, your activities, and having good relationships with your friends.”
So Moms . . .
With increased independence, so comes an increased focus on oneself. Children around the middle school age are just beginning to wonder who they are versus who everyone else is. This is the time where they develop a sense of self. Interestingly, they rely very heavily on their social circle to do so.
Help your child cultivate her friendships during this time period by listening to her stories, asking questions, and offering ideas. Don’t take it personally when she wants to skip family movie night to FaceTime with her friends now and then. Rather, recognize the value of allowing her to develop friendships with her peers. And, be mindful of your own behavior when it comes to relationships with friends. Your child will model what she sees . . . and kids see everything. So, think twice before you gossip (we all do it) and before you pass judgment on a friend in the presence of your child. Show your child how you show kindness and compassion to your friends without expecting anything in return, and how you show gratitude for good deeds done. Finally, point out how you and your friends are different from each other so that your child may learn to embrace differences just as she does similarity.
Alexis Says: “It’s not necessarily about the clothes, shoes, or hair, but that helps. We know we are supposed to be good people inside and that’s all that matters, but I can’t help that I want to be a good person who is fashionable!”
So Moms . . .
Without question, there is value in individuality . . . later in life. Yes, we all want our children to be independent thinkers and doers who cultivate a style all their own. But, at this age as children are beginning to become more conscious of self, the need for sameness supersedes the need for individuality. Put another way, kids on their way into middle school are facing a growing list of things about which to be self-conscious in terms of body changes, social changes, and other growing pains, and they don’t need one more thing about which to feel awkward. There’s a sense of relief in looking like everyone else. So, don’t be surprised if within the first few weeks of school, your son who never cared to look in a mirror now wants hair product or that your daughter who was happy with her single pair of sneakers now needs shoes that match her outfits. Of course, you should stay within your budget and of course, you can require your child to earn coveted items through work or performance. Just know that his or her individuality isn’t dead . . . it’s just on hold for a while.
Alexis Says: “Be careful what you post on social media. It lasts forever even if you think you’ve taken a post down or deleted a picture. Remember that there are people behind the usernames. If you treat people badly on social media or if you let others treat you badly, then that behavior will just keep going around. Never post anything on social media that you wouldn’t say to someone in real life.”
So, Moms . . .
Follow your kids on social media at this age. Do it. Get their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and close friends of yours to follow/friend/subscribe to all of their accounts. If you don’t have a particular account, get one just to follow your children. Take their phones from them daily and review messages and posts.
I will warn you, this is difficult. Kids are kids with an extremely powerful tool at their fingertips. They post silly pictures with cringe-worthy captions. They post the entire contents of their last shopping trip using a tone of voice we’ve never heard them use in real life. They whip. They nae-nae. It will embarrass you, but you have to look. And you have to let your kids know that you are going to be looking. This is how you will protect them from others online and from themselves . . . and how you will protect other mothers’ children as well.
Now is the time to start the discussion. And, please, don’t tell me that your solution to this is restricting your kid from all social media – not with the role that it now plays in our world. Eventually, your kid is going to find his or her way online; teach them now the responsible way to live online before it’s too late.
Alexis Says: “Be yourself ; you’re great. Some days you won’t feel great, but you are. You can do anything you want to do – and you should.”
So Moms . . .