The day has finally come. Wide eyes navigating rows of lockers, dozens of classrooms, and long, tiled, hallways. Not just a new backpack and school supplies this year, but a new schedule, a new school, new faces, and wait… how many different teachers do I have to remember?! The transition to middle school is an exciting one, but equally nerve-wracking, for many incoming 6th graders.
Montgomery County, Maryland is home to the 14th largest school system in the United States. With a highly competitive academic atmosphere comes an increased emphasis on scholarly success. But grades aren’t the only thing that students are up against. Rapidly changing developments in social media, increased access to the internet, video games, and new technologies provide outlets for teens which can be helpful, but also harmful if not monitored. What’s more is that the social-emotional outcomes of using these products can directly impact school performance through secondary effects on children’s mental health and wellness, their ability to self-advocate, and their proclivity to create/sustain healthy relationships with adults and peers. By educating yourself on these topics, not only will you learn to monitor screen time in an appropriate manner, but you will have the knowledge to facilitate open conversations about these topics with your child. Parents always say that their teens never tell them anything, but maybe, it’s because we aren’t asking the right questions.
Here are some quick tips for how to get involved with your child’s transition to middle school, while allowing them a sense of privacy and independence:
If your child has an individualized education plan (IEP) or 504 plan, work together to create a bulleted cheat sheet that outlines the basics of their accommodations. Often times, accommodations are not used to their full potential because of the student’s hesitation to advocate for him or herself. The original format of these plans contain long narratives that can be difficult to understand. Creating a cheat sheet for your child to carry in their binder for reference, can help them remember their accommodations, and act as a reminder to ask for help. Be sure to make any updates to the cheat sheet as the plan changes.
Plan an informal meeting to speak with the school counselor together with your child. If your child struggles with social-emotional needs, it may be helpful to introduce yourself and your child to the counselor, should any issues occur. Students may feel safer navigating the school if there is a staff person that they know and are able to talk to. This also means meeting with the school nurse if your child is arranging to take any medication in school. This option is helpful if your child struggles with remembering to take his or her medication in the morning or afternoon.
Work together with your child to create a nighttime routine or schedule. Develop a plan together, that states when to shutdown electronics or impose screen time restrictions on devices. Many times, it can be tempting for children to stay up all night on YouTube, social media, or video games. If usage is not monitored by parents, students may have trouble getting up in the morning, show signs of increased irritability, display a lack of motivation and energy in classes, and are more likely to have increased difficulty paying attention. If electronics are important to your child, it is helpful to create a mutual agreement as you’ll need buy-in from them!
Rephrase how you ask questions when you have a concern. “Johnny, I see you have four C’s in your classes, that’s unacceptable! Where is your homework?” When you have a concern, take a moment to yourself, and plan when to talk to your child. Try a tone that reflects curiosity rather than assuming the worst. “Johnny, I know you’re working really hard in school, but I’m worried about some of your grades. Is everything going okay in those classes? Anything I can do to help?” It’s hard to refrain from ringing the fire alarm when you are concerned, but the more you hound them, the more they will retreat if they feel any answer they give you will be met with a yelling match.
If possible, encourage your child to participate in after-school activities. This is a great way to get your child connected with the school and to make new friends. Sports and other clubs create an outlet for students that is monitored by adults, while allowing the child to flourish and expand their interests.
Get involved in your school community. It’s not uncommon for many parents to stray away from PTSA and parent committees in middle school, but these groups are a great way to make connections with other parents for carpooling, to know what is going on at the school, and sometimes just to feel a sense of community with other parents.
Get familiar with what they are up to. Explore YouTube and social media, ask them to show you who or what they watch, and show genuine interest. Show them a funny video of your own! This includes checking in every once in a while when they are gaming and watching them play, maybe giving it a try yourself. The more you integrate yourself with their interests, the more you will have to talk about. I can’t tell you all the memes and YouTube videos I am asked to watch on a daily basis!
Remember, this is their time to grow! A principal once said that though the middle school years are the most transformative years, they are here for the shortest amount of time. They will mess up. They will experience friendship failures and academic failures. Let them know that these experiences are normal. This is their time to build their emotional and mental strength that is necessary for their development. They need your support, patience, and understanding. Helping to create a safe and trusted environment at home is critical to how they choose to communicate with you. Many times, kids just want to be heard!
As I’ve stated before, the transition isn’t easy, but you and your child will get through it. Always keep in mind, your child is doing the best they can, and so are you!