Making good grades probably tops your list of goals for your middle school student, but making friends is also important. Middle school marks a new chapter in your child’s life. She’s moving away from childhood and into the beginning of adolescence. Your middle schooler’s friends will help shape many of her values and actions—including what she thinks about alcohol and whether she drinks before her 21st birthday.
As children approach adolescence, friends and “fitting in” often become very important. Young teens increasingly look to friends and the media for clues on how to behave, and they begin to question adults’ values and rules.1 Children want to be noticed and accepted by their fellow students.2 The need for peer acceptance is one factor in your child’s choice about whether to use alcohol, tobacco, and drugs. If your child wants to be part of a group that steers clear of harmful substances, odds are she’ll choose to be drug free, too. But if your child wants to be part of a group that uses alcohol, tobacco, or drugs, she may try them to fit in with the group.
You cannot choose your child’s friends for him, but you can help him learn to choose friends wisely. You can give him tools to find friends who do not drink alcohol and who will have a positive impact on him. Here are a few ways to help your middle schooler make friends:
- Build your child’s self-esteem. Tell her you love her. When she succeeds or has made a great choice, tell her you’re proud of her. When she does not succeed, help her feel better and urge her to keep trying. Your middle school student is going through many changes and may feel like she isn’t “good enough” or doesn’t measure up. Building her self-esteem will help her feel more confident and will make it easier for her to form healthy friendships.
- Talk with your child every day and listen to his concerns.5 Stay clued in about what’s going on in your child’s world. Give him your full attention when he talks, and really listen to what he has to say.
- Discuss with your child the qualities in a friend that matter most, such as being trustworthy and kind, and making good choices when it comes to steering clear of alcohol, tobacco, and drugs.
- Get to know your child’s friends. Looks can be deceiving, so try not to judge your child’s friends based on how they dress. It’s more important to talk with them and find out what they like to do—and whether it’s illegal, unsafe, or risky. Allow your child to invite her friends over when you’ll be home to keep an eye on them and get to know them better.
- Get to know the friends’ parents. In this way, you can create a “network” of parents whom you trust to monitor your child when he is at his friends’ houses.
- Introduce your child to new groups of people who share her interests. After-school clubs, faith-based activities, and sports programs are good places for meeting new people. Be open to exploring different activities with your child to find something that she enjoys. She might like programs at a local museum or art gallery, or perhaps she has other interests that can be fostered in your community.
Making friends in middle school is important to your child, so let her know it’s important to you, too. Giving your child your support will boost her confidence and help her develop positive friendships.
1 National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Make a Difference—Talk to Your Child About Alcohol, last referenced 8/4/04.
2 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Center for Substance Abuse Prevention. Keeping Youth Drug Free: Teach Your Child To Choose Friends Wisely, last referenced 8/4/04. (A print version of this publication was released in 2002.)
4 National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Make a Difference—Talk to Your Child About Alcohol, last referenced 8/4/04.
5 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Center for Mental Health Services. Make Time To Listen, Take Time To Talk, last referenced 8/4/04.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: Too Smart To Start
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: Tips for Teens: The Truth About Alcohol (A print version of this publication was released in 2003.)
U.S. Department of Education: Parent Involvement—Helping Your Child Through Early Adolescence (A print version of this publication was released in 2002.)
Reprinted with the permission of the Department of Health and Human Services.