I have spent the past 15 years working with students in grades 6th through 12th. By far, the most challenging are those that are in middle school. Middle school is hard for parents, teachers, and most importantly, the middle school students themselves.
This is a period of seeking independence while still having to follow rules. The students are trying to fit in when they don’t really know who they are yet. Many parents and students really struggle with the middle school transition. Here are some tips from a school counselor to make the change as smooth as possible.
How to navigate the middle school transition:
1. Get to know your child’s school counselor.
This person can be your lifeline when it comes to all things school-related if you know how to utilize them. For many families, middle school is the first time your child will have a counselor. The title is ambiguous, and many people don’t know what the job entails. I am kind of the “junk drawer” of the school.
I help parents all the time with contacting teachers, and working as the middleman between them and school personnel. Another thing I also help parents with is our online grade book system, especially if they are not tech-savvy.
Once I develop a rapport with a parent, I keep them up to date on things I am noticing about their child during the school day when I see them in the hallway or in the cafeteria. For example, if I notice a child who eats alone or seems sad in the hallway, I will reach out to the family and see if there is something happening at home and if there is anything I can do at school to help.
2. Get in the loop.
Nowadays, most schools have online grade books that parents can access 24 hours a day. With this kind of accessibility, there should be no surprises when it comes to grades. At the beginning of the year, most schools will send home papers and show parents or guardians how to log in and access the grade portal.
Most of these software programs make it easy for parents to contact school staff this way too. If you don’t know how to do this, or if you aren’t tech-savvy, someone at your child’s school should be able to help you (teacher, counselor, school secretaries, etc.).
3. Get to know your child’s friends and their families.
For the first time, your child is leaving the womb-like existence of elementary school, where they have been for the past six or seven years. Your child has been in school with most of the same children and their families for a long time. In middle school, that all changes drastically.
Kids from all over town are sent to one school and chances are, your child is going to make new friends. While your child might be embarrassed, take the time to get to know the people your child is going to be spending time with. This is especially important if your son or daughter is going to be going to their home. Or, encourage hangouts to take place at your home, where you can supervise your child and their friends.
4. Encourage your child to be independent and advocate for themselves.
This is a skill that will serve them for the rest of their life. Encourage your child to be their own voice, especially when it comes to talking to their teachers. If they are having trouble with a subject, encourage them to ask for help. If they need extended time on an assignment, do your best not to step in and email the teacher for them; instead, maybe help them draft that email to their teacher. This will be helpful in high school and as they begin their career as adults.
5. Check that cell phone. A lot.
This is probably the one tip for the middle school transition that I cannot stress enough. As a school counselor, 90% of my job is spent dealing with issues that are occurring through social media or text messaging. Honestly, if it wasn’t for cell phones, I wouldn’t have very much to do during the day.
Check your child’s phone often. Go through their text messages. Stay current on apps that they are using. Limit their exposure and use of social media. Many adults can’t handle these new avenues of communication, let alone young people who do not have a fully developed frontal cortex or emotional skills to handle the cruel world of social media.
The middle school years are some of the toughest years in human existence–hormones, bullies, acne, just to name a few. It is a wild ride, but an exciting one. It doesn’t have to be a disaster. You aren’t going to have all the answers, but your middle schooler will think they do.
Involved parents make the biggest difference, in my experience. It’s not going to be perfect, but you will make it through. Hopefully these five tips will help you navigate the halls of middle school easier than your 6th grader can open his or her locker.