The transition to middle school is not easy — and nobody knows that better than the parents who are recent survivors.
Talking to your child about everything from homework to drugs and alcohol is necessary to make middle school easier. Melissa Hill of Glen Burnie tells of her son Devin’s experience: “I was naïve in a lot of things, trying to maintain my son’s innocence, and it was shocking,” says Hill. As your child transitions to middle school, there are dramatic changes as your child mixes students of other ages and developmental stages. His world can suddenly become social, and schoolwork can fall to the wayside as he focuses on being cool. Luckily, there are strategies to help your student transition to middle school more easily. “Good advice is for people to have their eyes open and make sure they have the talk about the birds and the bees and drugs,” says Hill.
Starting on the Right Foot
Make sure your child attends the summer orientation, which will offer tips on how to prepare. This is an opportunity to meet his counselor and possible some teachers. “It is a valuable relationship he will have for years, so you should communicate, ask questions and e-mail him,” says Maurena Darling, counselor at Wiley H. Bates Middle School in Annapolis. Let him know that the guidance office is a safe place to deal with emotional, academic and social issues. “He should be a leader and team player and not participate in gossip and bullying. If he observes or experiences it, he needs to communicate with teachers and counselors,” says Darling.
Emphasize accountability. “Learn the responsibilities, keep up and be consistent by having a plan before he starts so he does not feel behind. This includes a study plan, homework plan and a plan to write in his agenda,” says Darling. Your child should know that his actions matter. “Middle school is the beginning of thinking ahead. What he does now will affect how well he does later and what he can accomplish,” says Darling.
Beyond “Just Say No”
Maintain open dialogue with your child throughout the year. “It is important to know who his friends are and where he is,” says recommends Candice D’Agostino, coordinator at Calvert Alliance against Substance Abuse in Prince Frederick. Do not just drop your child off at a friend’s house and let him know that you will see him later. “Make an attempt to go to the door and meet the parents and learn about them,” suggests D’Agostino. And talk about about the behaviors your child is seeing. “We want our children to be happy and healthy and grow up to be productive citizens of our country,” says D’Agostino. Alcohol is noted as the first drug of choice because it is often found at home and easily accessible. Marijuana and prescription drug use are also common. “If you have prescription medications you are not using, you should get rid of them. If you have pills in the medicine cabinet that are not being used, you should discard of them properly. If you have a narcotic that was prescribed by your doctor and your child has friends over, make sure it is in a secure place and not out in the open where the child has access,” says D’Agostino.
Take advantage of teachable moments and start the discussions early. “If you see something on television, take the time to talk about what you saw or heard and get your child to understand why the person’s decision was the wrong one or what they could have done differently in the situation,” recommends D’Agostino. But don’t think that talking with your child will make his middle school experience problem-free. “I wish we could say that talking to your kids will prevent trouble but it is not that simple. It is about being vigilant as a parent and being aware of what is going on out there, including what drugs are being used,” says D’Agostino.
There are a lot of myths surrounding drug use in middle school. “Drugs are used by everybody, rich, poor and middle income. Parents will be shocked to know that the age of when children start to use drugs is getting lower each year,” says D’Agostino. Knowing how to say ‘no’ will make your child’s transition easier. “Sometimes it is hard for children to say no, so they need the support of their family behind them and to understand the consequences of the effects drugs will have on their body and what will happen to them if they are caught such as being arrested, suspended from school or going to court,” says D’Agostino. Practice scenarios so your child can figure out what he can say to stay safe. “It is about being able to walk away and still feel you are okay,” says D’Agostino.
Friends ‘Til the End (Or Next Period)
Peers mean everything in middle school, so it’s important that your child has positive influences. “Teach him to avoid the cliques and be friendly to others and part of the bigger picture by becoming involved in activities, clubs and finding people who have his own interests,” says Darling. Middle school is a fresh start that includes more independence. “Your child is forming a reputation right from the first day by how he handles himself,” says Darling. Try to be patient with him as he may not always understand what is going on. “Middle school is like a roller coaster. One minute somebody may be your child’s best friend and ten minutes later, he may not like that person because that person was talking to somebody else. It is a very emotional time,” says Mia Talarigo, principal at Pikesville Middle School in Baltimore.
Proceed with caution when it comes to social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace. “Kids are not responsible enough and do not have enough life experience to make good decisions which can get them in a lot of trouble and seriously hurt,” says Talarigo. Kids may believe they are anonymous and post too much information. And despite what you may think, cell phones are not a necessity. “All schools have emergency personnel and telephones if a child has to get in touch with a parent or a parent has to get in touch with a child,” says Talarigo.
Stay Caring, Stay Strong
Accept your child for who he is and recognize this is a hard time. “Their hormones are raging and they turn into different children and close themselves off to you. This is something you need to be prepared for,” says Hill. Continue to set a good example. “When it comes to peer pressure, your child needs to remember to rely on what he has learned from his parents about what is right and wrong,” says Talarigo. Remember that you still need to maintain your parental role instead of becoming a better friend. “Children do not need an adult friend. They need a parent,” says Talarigo.
Children often build their identity during middle school which for some brings on derogatory remarks from peers. “Homophobic remarks and negative comments about someone’s gender expression are pervasive in middle schools. The majority of LGBT middle school students experience verbal harassment because of their sexual orientation or gender expression and sizable percentages are physically harassed or assaulted based on these characteristics,” says Anthony Ramos, director of communications at Equality Maryland.
Be strong as you face the reality of the arrival of the middle school years. “You cannot mislead yourself by saying that it will be like any other school year because it is not. I was so excited that it would be great and there would be more extracurricular things for my son but it was just a nightmare,” expresses Hill. Do not worry, as these few years will pass. Get ready for high school.