Going from Elementary to Middle School
Miranda: In late August I’ll pack up my room and leave for college. I’ll watch as my parents drive off leaving me to get accustomed to my new life; to take new classes and make new friends. I certainly won’t be the only kid transitioning to a new school this year, and never is that more challenging than when preteens leave their elementary schools and head off to a much storied land of middle school. All big transitions in life are scary. We leave the familiar and comfortable and step into a new challenge, full of things we’ve never experienced. This can be especially terrifying for an eleven year old.
To all of the new middle schoolers that may be scared, I offer the same advice I’ll be giving myself in a matter of weeks: embrace the fear. Yes, it will be a new environment, but the best thing to do its jump right in. Get involved, try new things, and take classes you haven’t considered before. By building off of these experiences you can figure out what you like and what path to take to get the most out of your middle and high school experiences.
Middle school is also a big step up in what is expected of students. For parents, the best way to get though this experience is to do regular check ups on what your kids are doing in school and make sure they do their homework. This helps lay the foundation for a strong work ethic throughout the rest of your child’s education.
Give your kids encouragement, but let them try and figure out who they want to be. By encouraging your son or daughter to get involved, you’re helping make school more than just a building with teachers and books. It becomes a place to make connections, to meet all different types of people and foster relationships. As I look back on my junior high and high school experiences the best advice I can give any kid staring down the next seven years is this: work hard, but always enjoy the journey.
Dr. Wes: Parents often feel the transition to middle school even more acutely than their preteens. No matter who you are, middle school brings back a lot of memories for adults. Some of those are good. A lot of them, not so much. Here’s my best advice for helping your child adjust:
- Provide a safe and loving home environment. This is made a little more difficult by how often middle schooler’s eschew such sentiment. Just put your ego in check and ignore that. They still need you. Which brings us to…
- The peer group is NOT the most influential factor in a teen’s transition to adulthood. Parental influence is. They’ll follow you for good or ill.
- Create an atmosphere of honesty, mutual trust, and respect. None of this comes by demanding it. It comes through leadership and example. Be trustworthy, respectable and honest and you’ll get that back. Not at first, but over the long haul.
- Allow age appropriate independence and assertiveness. The point of adolescence is to differentiate from parents. The point of parenting is to retain parental values through the teen years and into adulthood. These do not go together without conflict.
- Develop a relationship that encourages parent-child communication. This will often be one-way. Just assume you’re always communicating, so always be on message. And try to be interesting.
- Ethical misconduct (stealing, lying, cheating, mean kid behavior) is a big problem in teen culture now days. Think ethics in every discussion from age 5 up.
- Teach the importance of accepting limits. This will not come through discussion. It will come through force of will and careful administration of natural and logical consequences.
- Teach kids to think before acting. Nothing is more important than this. You’ll find this easier to do with the anxious kids, and harder for the ones who lean toward ADHD.
- That thing Miranda said about enjoying the journey…that’s some really good advice, for kids and for parents. You only get to do this once per child. Get the most joy you can out of the experience.
Wes Crenshaw, PhD owns Family Psychological Services, LLC. He is board certified in family and couples psychology (ABPP) and author of the books Dear Dr. Wes: Real Life Advice for Teens and Dear Dr. Wes: Real Life Advice for Parents of Teens. Learn about his writing and practice at www.dr-wes.com. Miranda Davis is a recent graduate of Free State High School who has co-authored the column since August 2011, and is the eighth in a series of teen co-authors. Send your confidential 200-word question on adolescence and parenting to firstname.lastname@example.org. The column is reprinted from Double Take, published weekly since 2004 in The Lawrence Journal World. Opinions and advice are not a substitute for psychological services.
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