Entering middle school is a huge adjustment for tweens. They are caught in a tumultuous mix of external and internal conflict. And, just at the time when they need parental guidance the most, they stop communicating. How can parents encourage independence and help tweens cope with middle school?
The answer may be as simple as giving them a good book. In his article "Using Literature to Help Children Cope with Problems," Wei Tu defines the goal of bibliotherapy. "Through literature," Tu says, "children can understand that they are not alone in encountering problems.
And problems abound in the middle school years. Wearing the right brand of clothing is no longer our children's biggest concern. In this fast-paced age, the issues facing today's tweens are the same issues that faced yesterday's teens. Some issues have stayed the same, like puberty, while others are more reflective of modern times. Internet safety, bullying, and school anxiety are part of their collective experience.
While bibliotherapy won’t truly solve these issues, Tu tells us that books can "help children deal with emotional and social problems." By reading the right book, a tween can experience the threes stages of bibliotherapy known as Identification, Catharsis and Insight. If she can identify with the book's theme and emotionally relate to the characters' conflict, she may just find solutions. Books for tweens and parents to read and discuss should include a combination of fiction and non-fiction. Here's a list of book to consider:
- Odd Girl Speaks Out by Rachel Simmons (Harvest Books). A collection of heart-wrenching true stories about bullies and cliques.
The Revealers by Doug Wilhelm (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Fictional characters form a community via an email forum to discuss their experiences of being bullied.
- What's Going On Down There by Karen Gravelle (Walker Books for Young Readers). Uses humor and informative cartoons to help boys negotiate their bodies' changes.
- It's Perfectly Normal by Robbie Harris & Michael Emberley (Candlewick). Gives accurate answers to practically any conceivable question about sexuality and addresses the physiological and emotional implications of puberty and sex.
Adjusting to Middle School
- The Middle School Survival Guide by Arlene Erlbach. (Walker Books for Young Readers ) A guidebook with practical advice for common situations.
- Middle School: The Real Deal, From Cafeteria Food to Combination Locks by Juliana Farrell & Beth Mayall (HarperTrophy). Addresses all aspects of middle school and includes interactive quizzes.
- Totally Joe & The Misfits by James Howe (Aladdin). Novels about the social pressures of middle school society. The books are somewhat controversial, as the twelve-year old main character, Joe, is gay.
As parents, we can’t solve our children’s problems, we can only give them the tools to help them cope. Books should have a proud place in every middle schooler's toolkit.