Middle school can be the most confusing time for students and parents in their educational career. Everything ‘known’ about school is shifting, and hormones are often kicking into gear at the same time. Students want more independence, and parents want to do the right thing. Instead of letting teens ‘sink or swim’, try a more balanced approach. Teens definitely need to learn responsibility and independence, but they also require structure and supervision more than ever. By following these simple tips you may be able to crack the middle school confusion code and have a more happy and stress free experience.
Step 1: Attend Back To School Night, Parent Nights and Open House.
Everyone has busy schedules, but this is an important show of support to your child, their teacher and school community. These nights often are times to sign up for email lists, learn about the course, and at a minimum get a ‘visual’ of where your child spends their day, and who their teachers are.
Step 2: Expect homework every night.
Follow the school’s homework policy or create one of your own. If you teen says they ‘don’t have any homework’, ask to see their planner or sit down with them to check the school or teacher website. If they truly have nothing assigned, require them to read a book, graphic novel, or magazine of their choice for 20-30 minutes.
Step 3: Set aside a regular time and quiet place to study.
In middle school it is important to create and/or maintain good study habits. Not only will it help improve grades, but will assist students as they enter more rigorous high school courses that count towards college entrance. Bedrooms, kitchen tables, and family rooms all can be acceptable study areas as long as they are equipped with a writing surface, are relatively free of distractions, and have a place for teens to store their school supplies and books when not in use. Many teens are able to listen to music while studying-TV and computers are generally more distracting. Also, turn phones on silent to discourage the temptation to read texts while concentrating.
Step 4: Check your child’s planner/backpack/binder regularly.
Not every teen is a born organizer. They need help finding a system that works for them. Teach them how to use a calendar to write down homework, preferably something that will clip into a 3 ring binder. Try using one binder for all classes-it will cut down on the misplaced papers and forgotten assignments in lockers. Once a week, dump out backpacks and book bags. Hole punch loose papers and put in their binder behind dividers for each subject.
Step 5: Make studying fun.
Some teens have shorter attention spans than others. Try setting a timer for 15-20 minutes of solid concentration. Take a 5 minute break, then resume studying. Make sure they have a full tummy-hunger can be very distracting. Try Skype or FaceTime-teens are social by nature and may surprise you with their ability to work with a partner. Studying with a friend at home or in a cafe can also be a nice change of pace.
Step 6: Provide encouragement, clear expectations and logical consequences.
Middle school is a time for kids to learn what works and doesn’t work for them. Rewards and consequences are an effective tool to help teens stay on track. Try to use a one week system-many kids today are used to instant gratification and waiting for a month or two is too long. Figure out what they really like, value or want and use that as your motivator!
Step 7: Be proactive with teachers.
Middle school teachers often have 100+ students. While they may want to contact you, often times they aren’t able to let you know about problems and successes as soon as you’d like them to. Make sure to get on email distribution lists. Send teachers an email every week or two asking specific questions about your student. Think of yourself, your child and their teachers as a team that is working together to provide the best educational experience possible.
Step 8: Expect success and understand struggles.
Teens are bound to encounter subjects that challenge them in middle school. Earning straight A’s is not in every subject. By setting high expectations yet understanding their struggles teens will learn that you are listening and care about them. When teens are scared to talk to their parents about grades it becomes unproductive and unsafe. Encourage them to do their best everyday, and understand when they make mistakes. They’re still learning!
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mamawolfeJanuary 5, 2012
Hi Miriam~ I always say there’s not much difference between kindergarten and middle school-sure, the curriculum is harder, but the lessons about being a nice human and how to behave in school are the same!Reply
Miriam ThompsonJanuary 5, 2012
Thanks for these tips! Right now we are adjusting to kindergarten and getting into the grove of doing homework. These are great foundations for when we have middle school in our house.Reply
mamawolfeDecember 31, 2011
Hi Jodi- Thanks! I can confidently say these tips work!Reply
Jodi Lobozzo AmanDecember 30, 2011
These are great tips for any parent! Thanks!Reply
mamawolfeDecember 30, 2011
Hi Emily-if you’re already thinking about middle school, your son will be fine! I think if parents started early with setting boundaries, etc., middle school would be much easier.Reply
Kathy-SO glad to hear your son is navigating 7th grade well…you must be doing all the right things!
KathyDecember 29, 2011
Jennifer these are great tips! Thanks so much! I was glad to see that we are doing all the things you suggested and hopefully because of this are 7th grader is having a very good middle school experience. I don’t remember feeling so stressed at that age, but it is very different for our kids. There are a lot of expectations and pressure, a lot more constraints on their time too. I find now that my role as homework cop is more now as a cheerleader and support system. He does not need my help in the same way but sometimes just needs me to sit at the homework table while he is figuring out what he needs to do. Knowing I’m there seems to really help. It is a very exciting but stressful time for him. Love, love your tips and I love knowing you are hear if I have questions!! You are such a great resource for parents!!! Happy New Year!!Reply
EmilyDecember 29, 2011
These are great tips! My oldest child is only six, but I’m *already* nervous about middle school, so this is definitely a post to remember!Reply
mamawolfeDecember 29, 2011
Hi Perspective-thank you! I’ve been teaching middle school for 20+ years, and these are my general words of wisdom to parents.Reply
Michael Ann-better late than never! He might realize that his choices now will really impact his future choices-maybe if you approach it that way he will listen. Take him to local colleges, have him look at his transcript and see what he wants to do when he graduates. It can be an eye opener for many kids.
Michael AnnDecember 28, 2011
Great advice, Jennifer, thank you! I wish I’d seen this a couple of years ago. We were too “hands off” with our oldest (9th grade) as he was really doing fine, but this year his social life kicked up and he no longer wants to put the time and effort into his homework and his grades are showing it. I want to implement your recommendations and at this point, it is very hard! Better to just do it right away when they begin middle school. Ugh.Reply
Perspective ParentingDecember 28, 2011
This is a PERFECT “how to” guide! Great suggestions that set the tone and expectations for academic success and good habits. Working in a high school, the most common concern is that students never learn how to study, so when the material gets harder, they don’t know how to manage it and the increased expectations. So cheers to you! Well done!Reply