Back-to-School Checklist for Navigating Middle School
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Making the transition from grade school to middle school is a huge adjustment, not only for your child, but also for you as a parent. Along with all the obvious anxieties that your child will harbor – keeping up with homework, remembering locker combinations, and changing for PE – comes a whole new set of concerns: Will I fit in? What do I do if someone picks a fight? What should I say if someone offers me drugs? And those concerns warrant an increased level of commitment and responsibility from you to ensure that your tween keeps his head above treacherous waters.
More than ever, view this time in their lives as an opportunity to connect and keep the lines of communication open and strong. When you ask how their day went, don't let them slide with a single-word answer of "Fine." Ask specific questions to get the answers you're looking for. "How did your test go in English today?" "Did you and your friends play basketball at lunch?" "Who's trying out for the spirit squad?"
Make sure your child understands that their school has a zero-tolerance policy for bullying of any kind, from plain old-fashioned squabbles on the blacktop and name calling to high-tech cyber bullying. Give specific examples of what constitutes bullying so that they understand how widely it can vary. Basically, anything that another child does to your child that makes them feel uncomfortable on an ongoing basis is considered bullying. Administrators are well versed in handling these situations and will ensure it's quite clear to the other student and the student's parents that "payback" is not an option and is grounds for suspension or expulsion. Reinforce the importance of reporting the incident right away before it snowballs.
Contrary to popular belief, girls are just as forward as boys when it comes to sex, and in some cases, even more so given they are physically and socially more mature. Notes a former vice principal from Wells Middle School in Dublin, California, "You have some kids that are still playing with action figures and others that are going to 3rd base in the locker bay." This is especially true in a middle school that teaches grades 6-8.
Today's middle schoolers have an abundance of information readily available to them and like to "try things on" to see how they feel and sound. Most communicate via texting, e-mail and instant messaging and feel quite free to write whatever comes to mind – things they would never say face-to-face.
Sexually explicit images are all over the Web and kids think it's funny to forward those images to classmates - as one mother found out when her son looked up the word penis on Wikipedia (at the prompting of a female student), and then forwarded the image to said student. Imagine the phone call from the girl's worried mother to the mortified mother of the son trying to make sense of what prompted the exchange to begin with. Explain the importance of never putting anything in writing that they would be embarrassed for a parent or teacher to see, and tell them that you will be monitoring their text messages, MySpace page and e-mails without warning at anytime.
Throughout the year, your school will most likely offer health education classes that teach everything from basic hygiene to AIDs prevention. Let your child attend. It provides a good starting point for discussion at home where you can present your point of view. Always reinforce that if they have any questions regarding sex that they should come to you first. After all, you've had a lot more experience than any of their friends, and you can give them the facts. You both may be embarrassed at first, but in the end, you'll both feel a huge sense of relief.
The best way to feel part of group, whether as a parent or a student, is to get involved. For kids, this means participating in extracurricular activities like sports, music, drama, art, leadership, and various clubs. It will give your child a chance to connect and build friendships with those who share similar interests.
For parents, it becomes quite clear from the start that you are no longer needed in the classroom to correct homework or help with art projects. But, that doesn't mean your child's middle school doesn't need volunteers. Offer to chaperon a dance or field trip. Become involved in the parent/teacher association. Most importantly, connect with your child's teachers. Go to Back-to-School night and attend conferences and open houses. Get every teacher's e-mail address and phone number, and check in with them often to make sure your child is turning in homework and staying on track.
Middle school is a pivotal point in your child's life. Make every effort to ensure that those years are the best they can be.