Published on 07/03/14

Middle school is a time for important transitions and independence

By Don W. Bower

The term “tween” has become popular to describe the unique world of pre-teens today.

Neither teenagers nor children, tweens inhabit a world that can be confusing and stressful – and not just for tweens themselves, but also for their parents and teachers.

The idea of middle schools became popular in the 1960s as a way for communities to adapt the school day to the developmental needs of tweens. Those early adolescent years are now recognized as a critical time when young people make decisions about who they will become as adults.

The middle school day is usually dramatically different from what your child knew in elementary school. He will need to find his way among classrooms, teachers and other tweens. He will also be expected to be more responsible for being on time and on task.

Parents can help by emphasizing what one writer describes as the “Three C’s for success” in middle school:” Comply with rules, conform to routines and cooperate with authority.

Compare those three rules for success with what you know about most tweens entering puberty: they push back against rules, they enjoy nonconformity and they rebel against authority. It’s no wonder that the middle school years are a struggle for many tweens.

Here are some tips for parents of tweens entering middle school to help ensure a great experience:

  • Help your tween manage her stress. You know the drill: Eat right, get exercise and find time to do the things you enjoy.
  • Keep the lines of communication open. Your tween needs adults in his life who love him, believe in him and hold him to reasonable standards. Expect your tween to test some limits – that’s a healthy sign of maturing – but don’t issue ultimatums except in dire circumstances.
  • If your tween struggles with making and keeping friends, he can learn some strategies to make this easier. Ask him about behaviors he has seen in other kids who seem to have lots friends. Likewise, talk about the behaviors that turn people off. Role-play how to sit down with a new group at lunch or initiate a conversation.
  • Talk about the cliques your tween will encounter in middle school. Cliques help tweens establish an identity. Sometimes that identity has positive outcomes, such as in 4-H and other leadership opportunities. Other cliques reward negative behaviors. Help your tween analyze the cliques he sees and make careful decisions for himself.
  • Middle school is a critical time to keep on track with classwork. Grades often drop upon entering middle school. Research has identified four factors that are predictive of dropping out later on: failing math, failing language arts, attending school less than 80 percent of the time and receiving a poor behavior grade. Help your tween organize his class assignments and plan his time to ensure completion. If your tween struggles in a subject, talk with his teacher and consider options to get help promptly.
  • Georgia public schools now provide a program of career planning beginning in sixth grade. Your tween will be exposed to a variety of career planning options and his classes will be related to his career development choices. Your school counselor can help explain these options so you can help your tween make these decisions.
  • Middle schools offer many options for extracurricular activities – sports, band, clubs, special teams and more. Some tweens (often with parental encouragement) get intensively involved in one activity to the exclusion of others during middle school. Talk with your tween about how he feels about his involvement, including finding a balance among all the demands on his time.

    Middle school is a big adjustment for tweens, but it can be a major adjustment for parents as well.

    Some parents are more involved in their tweens’ lives than is healthy for the tween’s own growth and independence. Other parents are not involved enough.

    Be sensitive to cues from your tween about whether you are “in his business” too much or too little, but remember that parenting is all about preparing your child to cope successfully with the everyday challenges and opportunities he will face.