by Sue Blaney

     Parents of middle school students sometimes feel unclear about how best to support their children in school. Some young adolescents are reluctant to share the details of their day at school, and parents can find themselves searching for suggestions about handling their changing role.

Here are some helpful tips for parents:

     Encourage connections to the school. Positive school performance is associated with a decreased chance that teenagers will engage in destructive behaviors. Connections to the school can come in many areas, not all have to be academic. Encourage participation with athletic teams, intramurals, band, chorus, plays, clubs, community service programs … any extra connection can enhance positive experiences for students.

     Kids learn through what they experience. A great deal of recent research about brain development in adolescents indicates that kids’ brains develop through activity and experience. What they spend their time doing during adolescence impacts the way their brain develops – neural pathways are created or shut down based on their activities. Direct them into appropriate and worthwhile activities; too much time in front of television or computer screens is not beneficial.

     Integrated curriculum helps children’s mastery of subjects. This enables teens to better see the relevance of what they are learning. It helps them to integrate what they already know with new material, provides context and connects the topic to the real world. Parents can help teenagers connect what they learn to the real world by encouraging them to watch the news, read newspapers and see the applications of what they are learning.

     Maintain appropriate expectations of your young teen. Middle school is a half-way point between the protective environment of elementary school and the more individualistic orientation of high school. Just as the schools don’t expect recent elementary graduates to abruptly grow up into responsible and autonomous students, neither should parents. This development is a process that takes place over time.

     Know your children’s teachers. Whether you have academic concerns or not, your teenager’s teachers can provide better support for your teens if you are in contact with them. Teachers and parents should be a team, with regular communication. This can also help parents know how to provide the appropriate support at home for students in a teacher’s class. Parents need to be mindful that positive communication with the school’s professionals includes give and take and relationship-building.

     Dealing with poor performance/low motivation: If your son or daughter isn’t living up to their potential academically, it is helpful to work with the professionals in the school on this. The source of the problem needs to be identified and addressed – and that can best be done by working with your teen’s counselors and teachers. Sometimes it’s developmental; it can be a socially based issue, it can be an indication of poor self-esteem, or even the demonstration of a learning disability. It is perfectly right to have high expectations of your middle school student, however don’t allow every family interaction about school to turn into a battle. The professionals at the school are there to assist your children, and you. Build the relationship, tap into their experience and knowledge, and tackle the problem together.

     Know that academic success isn’t all that matters. In fact, in studies that examined the factors contributing to success in life, it was shown that emotional intelligence is far more significant than a high IQ. Adolescents high in emotional intelligence demonstrate skillful communication, the ability to collaborate with others, the ability to control their emotions, and they have empathy for others. Parents need to value and support these developing attributes as well as academic success.

     Be involved in school. Research shows that the single biggest parental factor that separates successful students from less successful ones, is the physical attendance of their parents at school events. Your involvement demonstrates your support. Your type of involvement may be different than in was in elementary school, but it is no less important.

     Speak regularly with your teenagers about what they are learning in school. Try and make this a pleasant conversation, not a “test.” If your student knows you are interested in what they are learning, they’ll become accustomed to keeping you informed about their academic life. If, in these conversations, you are open and upbeat, not judgmental, your teen will feel more safe coming to you to discuss their school life.

     Refer to their Assignment Notebook together. This is a good way to keep tabs on test dates, long range assignments etc. Young adolescents are just learning how to plan their time, and for some, this is a real challenge. While you want your children to take the ultimate responsibility for their success, many young teens benefit from parental guidance in helping them keep their focus and time management appropriate. Remember, many young adolescents are not yet skilled in planning ahead, and they are easily distracted. But before you tell them what to do, ask them to discuss their thoughts and plan.

© Sue Blaney, 2007
By Sue Blaney, author of Please Stop the Rollercoaster! How Parents of Teenagers Can Smooth Out the Ride, a guide for parents of teens and a program for parenting discussion groups.
Visit www.PleaseStoptheRollercoaster.com for free tips, articles, podcasts and more.

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