Welcome to NSMS! No Sweat Middle School, that is. Preparing for the middle school years can cause parents and teens a lot of stress. Here's a quick know-before-you-go into the land of BFF's, 3 inch science books, and hellooo hormones.
1. Don't panic
There truly are some parts of school that can be scary, and school safety is a top priority at the national level and at every school right now. However, school is still one the safest places your child can be. Is your child one who seems to show no fear? Step into any middle school on the first day for a bizarre snapshot of what fear can do to brave tweeners. They are eerily silent, can't find their classes, and are nervously scouting out the competition. As a teacher, I always tried to allay this fear by acknowledging my own anxieties about the first day. Parents can calm their child's nerves by taking a tour of the school or by meeting teachers together. Usually, kids are back to their no-fear, normally quirky ways and ready to learn in no time.
2. Get a vision
Another great way to start the year is to set academic goals. It may be a goal to study more effectively or to improve organizational skills (do you have a magic backpack that makes homework disappear?). Take this time also to set expectations, including phone and online etiquette. Periodically check in on how this vision for success is going (not just at report card time).
3. Read and write, Rockstar
Your child may have had a great elementary experience. Enjoy and praise that, but middle school is a new chapter in her life. Encourage your child to read more difficult books, and identify books that are on-level for her. Lexile® is a nice resource for this. Also, with the advent of new Common Core State Standards, encourage your kid to read informational texts, like an iPad installation manual, in between books from their favorite vampire series. For parents of boys, I highly recommend research on reading and boys from the remarkable work of Dr. Jeff Wilhelm. Writing expectations are also a little higher in middle school with less emphasis on narrative and more on informational or technical writing, so be ready for that. This is especially true if your child is in an honors or gifted program. Correct program placement is vital to your child rocking it in school - or not. Is an accelerated program right for your child? Decisions about enrolling or withdrawing children from a special program can be a major disruption in a teenager's life. Keep your child's best interests in mind, let it be their choice and discuss with educators about the best fit in this collective decision.
4. Don't Go Incommunicado
Some parents seem to drop off a cliff and stop talking to teachers in middle school, preferring to let their little grown up talk himself out of problems. Others smother. Why is this? It's a tricky balance to watch your kid learn to communicate effectively, for sure. Encourage kids to communicate with their teachers about grades, assignments or concerns. Help them understand that respectful, face to face conversations aren't old hat.
5. Remember, it's a jungle out there
First, create a safe space in your family to talk about anything. No taboos. School issues like bullying, relationships and changes in their bodies, including questions about sex, are best handled by loving parents. Teachers can be your allies, but at the end of the day, a supportive home atmosphere is the strongest defense against the wild things that teenagers can experience at school. At the heart of this conversation is the importance of choosing friends wisely, whether it's online or in person. Ask any school administrator how much time they spend on Facebook-to-school conundrums and you will see just how much of a game changer social networking is in the modern school.
Alright, Moms and Dads, you are one step closer to being ready for the terrific teen years!