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Parenting a Middle Schooler: How to Stay Involved

Parenting a Middle Schooler: How to Stay Involved

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Updated on Dec 7, 2009

Back when your kids were in elementary school, parents were constantly being asked to help with field trips, craft activities, homework projects—just about any activity that needed an extra pair of hands. Teachers were appreciative and your kids liked having you around.

But once students hit middle school, parental involvement takes on a new role and often a less visible one. Middle school kids are becoming more independent and although they still need guidance from parents, they may not want you around so much. Parents quickly discover the same type of involvement that worked in the early grades isn’t as effective in middle school.

A Harvard researcher set out to learn exactly what type of parental involvement works best for middle school students. Nancy E. Hill, PhD, a developmental psychologist and professor at Harvard University, examined 50 parental involvement studies over a 21-year period. The findings revealed that talking to your children about the link between school and their future had the strongest relation to achievement.

“We found that parental involvement strategies that reflect ‘Academic Socialization’ were most strongly and positively related to adolescents’ academic achievement,” said Hill, who co-authored the analysis with Diana F. Tyson, PhD, Duke University.

What exactly is academic socialization? According to Hill, its communicating parental expectations for education and the value of education, linking schoolwork to current events, fostering educational and occupational aspirations, discussing learning strategies with children, and preparing and planning for the future.

Hill said when parents talk about educational goals, teens see the value and usefulness of their education, and they are more likely to pursue and master the material. Most surprising about the findings was that homework help and school-based involvement (the two other types of parental involvement identified in the research) took a backseat to this idea of academic socialization.

School-based involvement – parent-teacher conferences, volunteering and being present at the school through activities and events– had a moderate impact on achievement, while assisting and supervising homework had the least impact on achievement. “Based on our focus groups with middle school aged teens and their parents and teachers, we found that teens want assistance with organization, reminders about when assignments are due, and with identifying resources to assist them with their assignments,” said Hill.  “All of these strategies help students become more independent and responsible for their own work and learning.”

According to Hill, there are a few reasons why traditional homework help is not as effective in improving academic outcomes. “First, parents often get involved in homework only after students start performing poorly,” she said, adding “an increase in homework assistance is associated with decreasing performance, although homework help is not causing the decline.”

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