Starting Middle School: Time for the Kids to Be Responsible

middle school desksDear Mr. Dad: I enjoy reading your columns every week. You recently wrote about kids making the transition from elementary to middle school. Your suggestion of keeping the communication lines open with teens is excellent.  More listening than talking is very good indeed. But I think you focused too much on the parents and how they should stay in touch with the teachers. What about the kids themselves? Don’t you think they should be taking more responsibility for their own education?

A: You’re absolutely right (and so are the other readers who wrote in with similar comments). Middle school isn’t just about the parents; kids should definitely be learning how to be more responsible and self-sufficient. However, early on, they may need a little help. Here’s are a few suggestions (including some from readers)

  • Be Interested: Ask what she’s learning or doing in the classroom, with friends, or on the sports field. Insist on answers that are longer than one word. When I pick my 7th grader up after school, she’s not allowed to fire up her phone until she’s talked to me for five minutes about her day. Knowing you’re interested in her education will help your child stay (or get) motivated to stay on top of things on her own. Other ways to do this include volunteering at the school and attending as many school events (including teacher conferences) as you can.
  • Organization: Many—but not all—schools require kids to have a calendar or planner for keeping track of their homework, projects, and due dates. But having a planner doesn’t mean your child will actually use it, or that completed assignment will make the arduous trip from his desk, into his backpack, and into the classroom. Keeping a checklist by your front door can help eliminate a lot of problems. (Lunch? Check. Soccer cleats? Check. Homework? Check. Are you sure? Yes. Really? Oh, wait, it’s on my desk….) Help your child find a system that works for him, whether it’s lists, separate binders, directories on the computer, or whatever.
  • Prioritizing: Talk with your child about how to identify tasks that need to be done right now vs. those that are due tomorrow or next week. If your middle-schooler tends to get frustrated or overwhelmed, help her break larger projects down into smaller, less-daunting chunks. Instead of doing 100 math problems in one sitting, divide them up and intersperse them with other assignments. Help her come up with a system that works for her and her individual learning style.
  • Routines: Having a set schedule for homework can keep your child on track. A short decompression period before diving in is good, as are regular breaks. If possible, stay nearby. That’s so you can help your child stay focused and be there in case she needs help with an assignment.
  • Praise: Grades offer pretty good feedback on how a child is doing in school, but not everyone gets good ones. It’s especially important that you acknowledge the time and effort your child put into a particular project or homework assignment even if the grades were less than ideal.
  • Trust but Verify: For the first part of the year, it’s okay to make frequent reminders and require your child to show you her progress every day. But don’t turn into a crutch—or a helicopter. Over time, make fewer and fewer reminders.
  • Consequences: As your active involvement and reminders decrease, your child’s freedom to make decisions will increase. Gradually, he’ll also learn to deal with consequences, which could range from winning an award to failing a class. It’s up to him.

Transitioning to Middle School: From Big Fish to Small

back to school

Credit: publicdomainpictures.net

Dear Mr. Dad: My son is starting middle school next week. His previous school was K-5 so this is a new one for him. He’s nervous and, honestly so am I. He’s a smart kid but has always had trouble finishing assignments and turning work in on time. I’m worried that if he does the same in middle school, he’ll be setting himself up for even more trouble in high school and beyond. What can I do to help him (and myself) get ready for this big transition?

The transition from elementary- to middle school is kind of like the transition from half-day preschool or kindergarten to full-day first grade: it’s going to be a huge change in your son’s—and your—life. Until now, he’s probably spent each school year in a single classroom with a single teacher and the schedule was largely the same every day. But now, that comfort and security is being replaced by different teachers in different classrooms—each with different rules, binders, homework policies, and learning environments. Middle school is also a lot more tech-heavy than elementary school. My daughter’s school, for example, has the kids use Google docs, which are accessible from anywhere, for all assignments. The old “the-dog-ate-my-homework” or “Oops-I-left-it­-at-home” excuses won’t fly anymore.
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Helping Kids Through Tween Transitions


Michelle Icard, author of Middle School Makeover.
Topic
: Improving the way you and your child experience the middle school years.
Issues: Helping your kid through real middle school problems, including social media, questions about sex, mean girls (and boys), and fitting in, dealing with bullies, fashion, peer pressure, dating, independence, and more.

Manual to Manhood + Middle School Makeover


Jonathan Catherman, author of The Manual to Manhood.
Topic:
How to cook the perfect steak, change a tire, impress a girl, and 97 other survival skills for young men.
Issues: As a man in the making, you’ll need to know how to do stuff. You also need a strong moral character to back up your new abilities. Here are step-by-step instructions for just about everything you need to know.



Michelle Icard, author of Middle School Makeover.
Topic
: Improving the way you and your child experience the middle school years.
Issues: Helping your kid through real middle school problems, including social media, questions about sex, mean girls (and boys), and fitting in, dealing with bullies, fashion, peer pressure, dating, independence, and more.

It’s all fun and games–until someone dies

I’ve been reading about the new middle-school craze–the Choking Game, which involves strangling (one’s self or someone else). The goal is to produce the light-headed feeling that happens when oxygen to the brain is cut off and the “rush” that happens when the choke is released and the oxygen flows back in. As one who, over the course of many years in the martial arts, did plenty of choking (and was choked at least as often), I can say that there is a tiny bit of truth there–you do get a little light-headed before passing out, and you do get a rush when the blood comes back. But I was reminded of two movies that dealt with exactly the same search for a choke-induced high.

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