The transition to middle school is probably the biggest you’ll watch your child go through before college. The switch from being in the same elementary school class with the same kids all day to being in a much bigger school with more classes, new academic demands and a locker and schedule to manage is huge. Add puberty, shifting friendships, gossip and bullying to the mix, and you’ve got an intense set of challenges ahead.
The good news: Chances are your kid’s ready to embrace this new beginning. If you’re feeling anxious for your tween as she embarks on this next chapter, you’re not alone. You may be channeling how fraught your middle school years were and wishing you had some tips to help your child navigate these awkward and challenging years. Here are 10 things I wish I’d known before my son started middle school.
ORGANIZATION IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER IN MIDDLE SCHOOL
Your kids will be expected to keep up with more than half a dozen class schedules and requirements. This will take a lot of organization in their lockers, on their laptops and at home. Encourage your child to set up a system for all three spots and pay attention to recurring issues. Your daughter may be great about getting homework done, but not about remembering to turn it in on time. Make sure she writes herself reminders in a planner, her phone or whatever works for her. If he’s forgetful across the board, encourage him to write everything down in Google Docs, which, unlike a book or piece of paper, can’t get lost. Does she forget books all the time? Get an extra copy from the library to keep at home.
RESIST THE URGE TO MICROMANAGE EVERYTHING…
From making new friends and navigating social conflict to keeping track of assignments and tests, your kid will make lots of mistakes. As hard as it is to watch, the only way he’ll develop resilience is by working through problems on his own. If he’s having an issue, encourage him to self-advocate and talk to his teacher about questions or concerns. It’s okay to let your kid struggle. Allowing him to make mistakes and learn from them will help him build his independence. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t intervene when your child needs you. If her grades are dropping or she doesn’t want to go to school or hang with friends, it’s time to get involved.
As much as they hate to hear it (especially from you), their bodies are changing and personal hygiene matters. Regular reminders about deodorant, brushing and flossing are totally okay. Their teachers and friends will thank you.
THEY MAY DRIFT FROM ELEMENTARY SCHOOL FRIENDS—AND THAT’S OKAY
With a much bigger pool of kids will come new friends. Your child’s elementary school bestie may distance herself from your daughter or vice versa. Now more than ever, your kids will care about how they’re perceived by other kids at school. Social standing will sometimes trump loyalty to a longtime friend. Kids are trying to figure out who their real friends are, and it can take a couple of years to settle into a group they feel comfortable with. The best way to help your kids through all the middle school friend drama is to be there and listen. It may seem like they don’t want to talk, but if you tell them they won’t get into trouble, they’re more likely to share the good, the bad and everything in between.
IT’S OKAY TO MONITOR THEIR CELL PHONES AND SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNTS
I recently heard Ana Homayoun, author of numerous books including her most recent, Social Media Wellness, talk about this very topic. In middle school, your kids should know that you can ask for their phones at any point to read their texts and monitor their social media activity, she says. A parent is ultimately responsible for what a minor does online and until your kids learn the dos and don’ts of digital and social media etiquette, it’s a good idea to keep tabs on their activity. If they feel their privacy is being compromised, remember that safety overrules privacy. The hope is that by high school, they’ll have solid experience navigating the digital world so you can take a step back.
TALK TO THEM ABOUT SEX AND SEXUALITY
Health class covers a lot of the basics, but the reality is tweens are seeing and hearing everything. Even though they hear these things, remind them that they don’t have to repeat them out loud. Keep talking to them and remember, it’s better they learn about sex from you than anyone else.
ENCOURAGE THEM TO BRANCH OUT WITH EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES, CLUBS AND MORE
From robotics and French to track and Model UN, there are so many clubs, sports and activities offered. This is a great time for your kid to step out of his comfort zone and try something new. He’ll not only have fun, but make new friends in the process.
GET TO KNOW THEIR GUIDANCE COUNSELOR
We moved the summer before starting middle school, so my son also had to navigate being in a new town and not knowing anyone on his first day. I was lucky to meet his guidance counselor during new student orientation, who was a great source of advice and support. When I worried about friends, he offered suggestions for clubs and volunteering. It was comforting to know he was there if my son needed to talk.
TEACH THEM NOT TO INVEST IN DRAMA
Tweens are hormonal, which means every uncomfortable situation gets amplified. Things like being excluded from a hangout, removed from a group chat or told hurtful comments can take on a life of their own. Do your best not to get wrapped up in the stress your kid’s experiencing and ask him how he thinks he should handle it. Discuss scenarios and allow your kid the opportunity to step back and think about the right thing to do. Remember that drama is totally normal at this age. Unless there are threats of physical harm, sudden changes in behavior or some other serious red flag, encourage them to work it out on their own. And make sure they know you’re always there to listen.
KEEP CALM AND KNOW THAT EVERYTHING WILL BE OKAY
Tweens are more resilient than we give them credit for. Encourage them to do, fail and learn. A few zeros for forgotten homework won’t be a big deal in the long run, but the consequences will be just enough to teach your kids important lessons in responsibility that’ll carry them through high school and beyond.