Tweens Entering Middle School
Switching from elementary school to middle school is a significant life change in your child’s life, which causes stress. At the same time that your tween is just beginning to feel the effects of puberty, they will also face: switching from being one of the oldest kids at school to one of the youngest, managing more teachers and a more complicated class schedule, handling more difficult academic requirements, and dealing with a more complex social scene. To help your child adjust, begin discussing the types of changes he or she can expect long before that first day of class. Be understanding as your tween shares his or her fears, and address each one. Point out that everyone in his/her class is new to the school and feeling the same way. Below are some topics and tips for parents to help ease the transition:
School Orientation or Tour
The majority of middle schools offer a school orientation or open house prior to school beginning. Do not miss this opportunity! Many of your child’s fears will be addressed by the principal at such an event, teachers and counselors are available to answer all of your (or your tween’s) questions, and touring the school will ease your tween’s anxieties. A tour will allow your tween to test his/her locker, visit classrooms, and find key places in the school (gym, cafeteria, library, office). Knowing where things are and what to expect will give your tween a sense of confidence on the first day. If your tween’s middle school does not provide this type of “sneak peek” at middle school, call and ask to arrange a tour.
Peer pressure really kicks into high gear in middle school. And while facing increased pressure, hormonal tweens are suffering from a fear of embarrassment. There is more pressure about social status, cliques form, bullying is more prevalent, tweens are beginning to date, and risky behaviors, such as drug use, begin to emerge. In middle school, the social scene can change quickly. Your child may find that long lasting friendships end suddenly and without explanation. New friendships may pop up out of nowhere and social status can change overnight. It is a very confusing time and the uncertainty of friendships and volatile social challenges can be a lot to deal with. Parents must remember how tough the new social scene is and be patient. Before middle school begins and throughout the year, parents should have ongoing discussions with their tween about their expectations. If you do not want your tween to date or begin smoking, it is vital you express that expectation before they walk in the door to middle school. You should remind your tween about what constitutes bullying and tell them you expect them to let you know if you are being bullied and you expect them to never bully anyone else.
In middle school, most students have six teachers – one for each subject. This is a big change from elementary school where they only have one or two teachers. Many tweens are terrified of having so many teachers. Parents should try to point out the positives. For example, you could tell them if they don’t like one of their teachers, they are only stuck with them for about an hour each day.
Students at middle school are usually assigned lockers with combination locks. Lockers provide students a safe place to store all of their essentials, such as coats and books, instead of having to lug all of it around in a bag. Many tweens are scared of lockers for three reasons: (1) they are afraid they will not be able to open the lock, (2) they are afraid they will not have time to get to their locker between classes, and (3) they are afraid that someone who has a locker near them will pick on them. Here are ways that parents can dispel their tweens’ worries:
- Let your tween know that most schools will let you switch to a different locker if your locker location becomes a problem, either due to bullying or schedule logistics.
- Tell your child how worried you were when you started middle school about being able to make class in time and how you were never late. (Or ask an older sibling or neighbor to provide the same message.)
- To improve his/her confidence and fine motor skills, give your student a combination lock of their own and start practicing with it early in the summer.
- Encourage positivity by providing your tween with ideas about how to decorate his/her locker with photos, drawings, magazine clippings, and anything else that makes it feel special. (Be sure to check with the school rules before you do this.)
A middle school class schedule can seem overwhelming to a new student. They might have a different class, in a different room, every hour, or they might have different classes on different days. This is a big change, so parents should try to validate their tween’s concerns while alleviating their worries. Remind your child that everything is hard at first, but within the first week, it will feel normal. Encourage your tween to speak up if they have trouble finding anything. Teachers, counselors, and other school staff are there to help. Finally, get a map of the school before it begins and go over it with your tween. Hopefully, they will receive their locker assignment and class schedule before the first day, and you can offer them tips on how to get to class on time. For example, you might suggest they visit their locker when they first arrive and then only carry the materials for their first two classes, and then visit their locker again on their way to their third class. If they receive their assignments prior to the school tour, you can actually walk their route with them.
Middle school brings new academic challenges. Assignments and tests will be more difficult. Besides receiving nightly homework, students will be responsible for papers, projects and exams for the first time. Students should make every effort to make academics a priority, in order to establish solid study habits before entering high school. The best way for parents to help their tween prepare is to spend time with them over the summer improving some of the most important skills they will need to be successful: typing, multiplication facts, and reading. Technology has become a vital part of most middle school curriculums. Students need instruction in basic keyboarding skills so they can best use the precious time on the computer. Practice can be gained by using an online tutorial for basic typing. Middle school math is intense, and they will not have time to still be carefully counting on their fingers. Students absolutely need multiplication facts down – try quizzing them in the car on the way to activities. Excellent reading skills help students perform better in every subject. Make sure that your tween spends time reading a few great books over the summer to keep their skills in good form.
Homework demands increase during middle school. The best way for parents to help their tween is to teach them time management and organization skills. Students need an established study area that is devoid of distractions, well-organized, and stocked with extra school supplies so they don’t have to waste time searching for things. Despite their protests, tweens also need a scheduled time during the day to study. This will help them complete assignments more efficiently. Help your tween to establish the habit of keeping an up-to-date calendar with all assignments and checking that all necessary supplies and assignments are packed, ready to return to school when the study session is over. Creating a color-coded binder or folder for each class can also help keep them organized.
No More Recess
This may seem silly to a parent, but in elementary school, recess was probably your child’s favorite part of the day. Most of their social interactions took place during this time. It can feel traumatic to not have that down time. Remind your child that middle school offers other opportunities during the school day to relax. They will have a lunch period (which is often twice as long as their lunch time in elementary school) and possibly study hall.
Middle school offers every child the opportunity to select their elective courses and participate in after-school sports, clubs, and activities. From football to field hockey, from drama club to school yearbook, from band to computer club, extra-curricular activities are a great way for your tween to make lasting friends, explore new interests, and have lots of fun. Most students find extracurriculars to be the best part of the switch to middle school, so encourage your child to expand his or her personal skills and talents.
Get Help When You Need It
Remind your tween that they are not the first freshman to enter the halls of their middle school. There is no question or concern that the teachers, counselors, or office staff have not heard before. It’s their job to give your tween guidance if they are struggling, lost, or even just a little confused about something. If your tween needs any sort of advice, assistance, or general moral support during their first weeks of middle school, encourage them to ask!
The idea of moving up to middle school can be scary for many children. Parents need to be understanding of their fears, while also pointing out the numerous benefits and opportunities that middle school offers. Talk to your tween about all the organizations and clubs he or she will be able to join, as well as the independence that comes with being a preteen. Encourage your tween to become involved right away, when everyone in his class is just as new to the school as he is.