Parenting in Middle School: When To Push, When To Pull, When To Call for Help & When To Let Go
6th Grade Typical Issues
• They typically like moving from class to class, and like school. Teachers do a lot of extra handholding in the beginning, but some students still struggle to keep up with organization.
• Socially things get a lot more complex than in 5th grade. For those who enjoy making new friends and do so easily, they enjoy the transition. For some kids though seeing their old friends branch out is hard for them. They can become fearful that they will have no friends.
• Girls begin to become more socially conscious in regards to appearance and social status, though many remain very innocent. They will begin to see some peers dressing more like teens, wearing fashionable clothes, talking about popularity and boys. The fast crowd will typically go so far as to kiss, use phones for texting and have facebook. This remains the vast minority of 6th graders though.
• Boys tend to continue with what they did in 5th grade. They play sports during recess and hang out with each other. A few begin to want to be around girls.
• Counselors are often asked by girls to help resolve friend issues, including how to “break up with a friend” whom they no longer want to associate with.
6th Grade When to call:
* It is normal for them to get overwhelmed and discouraged and have days when they “hate school” or just want to be left alone. Typically they are fine by the next day. If this persists for several days or begins to become a bigger issue - like they stop eating, can’t sleep, want to be alone all the time, etc. - call the school for support.
• Significant academic struggles
• Significant shift in friend group (including losing friends)
Advice for parents:
• Help with schoolwork and organization to the extent they need it, but begin to let them do more on their own.
• Do not express shock when they tell you about some of the things other students are saying and doing. Listen calmly and ask them what they think of this. Always offer your perspective from the bias of your own values. They are still highly influenced by your opinions and values.
• Monitor any social media (including texting) to ensure nothing inappropriate or concerning is going on.
• Remember - At this age what seems like the end of the world one day, is often forgotten by the next. Parents often times have a harder time letting go!
7th Grade Typical Issues:
• Teachers begin to be more “hands off”. Organization and managing details can be a challenge and leads some students to fall behind. Students ask counselors for help and report feeling “stressed out”.
• Girls find there is less “girl drama” as social groups tend to have stabilized by 7th grade.
• Boys show more interest in girls
• Many more girls are fashion conscious and want to dress and look like teen agers.
• Over 50% are on facebook
• They tend to want more freedom
• Some feel pressure to get into private high school and have highly programmed, “accomplish and achieve, or die” attitudes. This adds considerably to the stress.
When to call:
• When student is struggling in multiple subjects and you need to speak with more than one teacher or are concerned your child is getting discouraged.
• If they used to have many friends in 6th grade and now suddenly don’t.
• Any significant, lasting change in behavior in a negative direction
Advice for parents:
Prioritize extracurriculars. Kids still need downtime, playtime and free time. The over scheduled 12 year old who is fighting to keep with all of the demands, often becomes the burned out 16 year old. It is better to pick a few activities and focus on those then to load up on many.
Monitor social media. Listen carefully to the conversations your child has with peers. While very few 7th graders drink or smoke, this is the age when we begin to notice this showing up and at least having awareness of it going on amongst their peers.
Communicate with other parents as you are giving your kids more “freedom”... Know whose house they are going to, make sure parents are home, etc. The more alliances you can build with likeminded and similar valued parents, the better off your kids will be.
Start teaching them how to talk to adults and advocate for themselves. While you can still come to school to talk with teachers, teaching them to do this themselves will help them immensely. Allow them to manage their own schoolwork as much as possible
Your child will still have a successful career one day, even if he doesn’t always get straight A’s! “Personal best” doesn’t look the same for everyone. If you can accept this and instill it in your 7th graders, you will make your and their lives so much easier later on. You will help them avoid the anxiety and stress that consumes many high schoolers.
8th Grade Typical Issues:
• Teachers begin to demand a higher level of thinking to do school work. This involves attending to more details, solving more complex problems and managing more complex ideas and assignments. For some, this is an effortless transition. For others it can be overwhelming and they will fall behind quickly and grades will suffer.
• They tend to be far more concerned with peers and less engaged with adults, and tend to create some distance from parents. The same girl who in 6th grade would have come to the school counselor, now goes to her friends. The same boy who in 6th grade would have talked to his parents, now talks to friends or doesn’t talk to anyone at all.
• They begin to see their parents flaws and hypocrisies and have strong opinions about them.
• They will worry about friends, especially if the friend is using drugs.
• Boyfriends and girlfriends and sexual activity beyond just kissing.
• Some parents are highly permissive. 8th graders notice this and can resent their own parents who are more restrictive.
• “It’s just 8th grade. These grades don’t count towards college!”
When to call:
• A sudden, significant drop in grades. [NOTE: Often this is correctable when the teacher works with you to develop a system to ensure child understands and manages the details]
• Sudden change in friend groups, including withdrawing from friends all together
• Stress related behavior like sleep problems, eating problems, etc.
More Advice for parents:
• Teach and expect your 8th graders to advocate for themselves as much as possible. This will serve them and give them a boost of credibility in high school.
• Allow them to manage their own schoolwork as much as possible
• Monitor all social media, listen to peer conversations, etc. You need to be alert to any dangerous or high risk activities going on in their lives.
• Though they may not talk to you as much, they still very much want and need you. Take advantage of time in the car, going out to eat, watching TV shows together, times when they are feeling talkative, to connect and stay updated.
Last and perhaps most important of all...
Continue to act in integrity with your values and to speak of them to your kids, regardless of how they contrast with the culture around you. Your teen is listening and still learning from you, and will continue to, so long as you continue to be a credible source of knowledge, support and guidance. Updating how you communicate, what boundaries and expectations to hold, etc is a continual process of change - but staying true to your core values can be changeless.