Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many parents and tweens did not have a normal transition into middle school during 2020 and 2021. So, this fall maybe your child’s first real, in-person middle school experience, and that can feel overwhelming for both of you. As your tween is going through a rollercoaster of feelings regarding middle school life, here are some tried and true tips to help you and your student navigate the start (or re-start) of the middle school years.
1 Realize your child is now in the driver’s seat.
Not literally, yet! But that’s the best way for you and your tween to approach communication with middle school teachers. During elementary school, your child’s teachers sent sweet, detailed weekly or monthly newsletters to keep you informed of what was happening in the classroom. Say goodbye to those. Middle school teachers often have three to five classes that rotate through their doors every day, and the pacing and structure of those classes can vary greatly depending on students’ needs. That makes informative class newsletters or emails an improbability.
Teachers may still communicate with parents over email or the phone, but expect your student to now be the one in charge of her own learning and academic experience. Middle school teachers will explain to students how to check school email at least once every day for direct messages from them and use BLEND and online grading programs for assignments, due dates and grades.
There’s an old saying that says: “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Encourage your child to be assertive when they have questions and to advocate for themselves. Most middle schools issue their students a personal laptop. That means they can and should directly reach out to their teachers. Remind them that people who teach middle school really do like tweens and are there to help.
2 Don’t be alarmed if grades take a dip.
Your former A-student’s grades may drop a bit. There’s a lot coming at your middle schooler every day, and even straight-A scholars might rebel a bit. New classes, a handful of new teachers and a host of new social and emotional dilemmas can put even the most academically-minded student in knots. It can feel very difficult for them to stay on top of grades like they did in late elementary school where the learning environment was more controlled and directed for them. Go easy on your tween if this happens. Your grace and kindness as a parent can help them navigate their new, complex academic life.
3 Encourage your child to stay engaged.
Your child may seem disinterested in enrichment activities. Fear of social rejection and embarrassment over bodily changes during puberty can all cause tweens to want to disengage from extracurricular activities. As a parent, help your tween find some enrichment activities outside of school hours. This could mean a wide range of things such as sports, church youth group, the arts or community service projects. Your middle schooler might whine about it, but your positive encouragement can help your child branch out a bit.
4 Remember your own pre-teen angst.
During middle school, tweens are desperate for degrees of independence. Recall your own pre-teen self and how your parents didn’t seem to understand you at all during those strange years. You may get more eye rolls than hugs. Don’t take it personally. As a parent, find ways to widen the boundaries a bit to help your child feel and experience more autonomy.
5 Get to know the counselors.
The middle school years can bring with them big mood swings and identity questions, at the same time there is a growing independence from parents. So, while your tween might not want to talk to you about all of their feelings, middle school counselors are highly trained and deeply sympathetic to the issues students are facing. Encourage your student to seek out resources the school provides. During the first weeks of school, students will be introduced to their grade-level counselor. They can schedule a talk session with the counselor by email any time and will be amazed by how much better they will feel by opening up to a trusted adult.
6 Read the student handbook.
It may sound strange, but it’s good advice. If there’s one way to be informed, this is it. The student handbook for your child’s middle school includes a wealth of information about school policies that you and your child need to know, such as absentee information, disciplinary measures, technology policies, the ins and outs of dress code protocols and students’ rights should they experience bullying or harassment. You can easily access your child’s school student handbook on your district’s website. Take some time to answer your own questions by reading over pertinent information from the handbook and discuss the school policies with your tween.
7 Give your middle schooler time to adjust.
It can take about three months to feel oriented to a new school setting. Remind your child to go easy on himself. Rather than stressing, encourage him to reach out to teachers if he feels overwhelmed. Right around Thanksgiving break, take stock and check in. Most likely, you’ll both be pleasantly surprised and amazed by how much adjustment has been made to middle school life.
Jess Archer is a freelance writer in Austin. She is also a certified middle school English teacher with eight years of teaching experience in schools all over Austin. Find her at writerjessarcher.com.