Helping Your Child Transition to Middle School

Will your son or daughter be starting middle school in the fall? If so, then be sure to read this:

During the past 20 years, many changes have taken place in how young teens are taught. These changes continue as we learn more about how these kids develop and learn. Today, fewer and fewer young teens attend junior highs. Instead, a growing number attend middle schools. Most of these schools are for grades 6–8 (although some may have grades 5–8, 5–7 or even 7–8). As the middle school movement has accelerated, many high schools have moved from serving grades 10–12 to grades 9–12.

As a mother or father, you may wonder, "Is one grade structure better than another for my youngster?” Most teachers believe (and research verifies) that the way a school organizes the grades is not as important as what goes on inside the school (i.e., what gets taught and how it gets taught). Additionally, the grade span of a school doesn't tell you much about the quality of the school and whether or not its educational practices are well suited for younger teenagers.

Most young adolescents entering a new school find that it's a big change. They're used to being the oldest, but now – once again – they're the youngest. Most peers are new, as are the routines and the homework. Coming at a time when young adolescents are undergoing many other stressful changes, the move to a new school can be overwhelming and have a negative impact on motivation and self-worth.

Because of this, many middle schools have programs to ease the transition. For instance, they may invite elementary school kids to visit the middle school to become familiar with the building, lockers and classrooms. Also, administrators of the middle and elementary schools might meet to discuss programs. School counselors might meet to talk about how to help children make a smooth transition. These and other practices can help make the new school seem friendlier.

Hormones may be fluctuating, but young adolescents of all backgrounds - and with a broad range of personal characteristics - still absorb vast amounts of information. They also can benefit from a strong curriculum. As young teens develop their cognitive skills, they are able to complete longer and more involved projects and to explore subjects in more depth.

Young adolescents generally benefit from being exposed to a broad range of experiences and programs (e.g., academic, recreational and vocational). These opportunities take advantage of their natural curiosity and can be invaluable in familiarizing them with new worlds and possibilities. These exploratory programs can also be entertaining. For these reasons, some schools provide opportunities - both in and out of school - for children to participate in sports, as well as learn subjects like foreign languages, music, drama and technology. Many schools also encourage children to participate in volunteer or community service projects. Exploratory programs can help young adolescents figure out where they fit in, and allow them to think about their future plans.

There's still plenty of room for improvement in middle schools. Test scores suggest that many young adolescents lack the skills needed for high school success. On international comparisons, they aren't scoring as well as they should in areas like reading and math.

More teachers and policymakers are becoming aware of the high levels to which young adolescents can achieve. This awareness is leading to still more change in middle-school (e.g., what gets taught, how it is taught, how educators are prepared, how to assess what children know, etc.).

25 tips for helping your child make a smoother transition to middle school:

1. Accompany your youngster on campus tours and orientations offered to moms and dads and incoming children. The better you understand the school layout and rules, the more you can help your son or daughter.

2. Avoid overreacting to grades. Making sure your youngster gets a handle on how to meet the demands of the new school is the critical factor in the early weeks.

3. Buy your youngster a lock for her locker several weeks before school starts to give her plenty of time to practice opening and closing it. 

4. Ease any loneliness in the early weeks of school by helping your son or daughter arrange weekend social activities with neighborhood, church, or grade school peers.

5. Encourage educators to continue using strategies that have worked for your youngster in the past, such as writing homework assignments on the board, or assigning a "homework buddy" she can contact if she forgets what her assignments are. If the school has a homework hotline, make sure your youngster knows how to use it.

6. Encourage your youngster to join group conversations. Discuss how to join in without interrupting, to add something relevant to conversation in progress, etc.

7. Encourage your son or daughter to join sports teams, clubs, or other extracurricular activities.

8. Explore the school's Web site with your youngster. Search for announcements, schedules, and events.

9. Find out the length of the passing period between classes. Time it out for your son or daughter. Demonstrate how far he or she can walk in that amount of time.

10. Get a copy of the student handbook. Review rules and requirements — especially the school's code of conduct, which describes consequences for violations of the most important rules. Ask the school staff questions about anything that's unclear.

11. Get a copy of your youngster's class schedule and mark the location of his locker and each classroom and bathroom on the school map. Tape both of these inside his binder. If your young teen has trouble reading maps, walk the route between classes with him — more than once, if necessary — and note landmarks that he can use to navigate.

12. Get a map of the campus and take your youngster to explore. Pick a time after school in the spring or in the days just before school starts in the fall. Be sure to check in with the school office to get an OK for your explorations.

13. Go to back-to-school night, open houses, parent-teacher conferences and other events where you can connect with your youngster's educators.

14. Help your youngster be her own advocate. Encourage her to discuss problems and solutions with educators on her own, but be ready to step in and help as needed.

15. Help your young teen with time management skills. Work together on a schedule for study time, break time, chores, etc.

16. If your son or daughter has an Individualized Education Program (IEP), meet with the middle school IEP team no later than the spring before your youngster enters the new school. Discuss the qualities of the "ideal" teacher for your youngster to help ensure the best placements.

17. Include a couple of your youngster's friends on campus treks. They can boost each other's memory about where things are when school starts.

18. Make sure your youngster has an easy-to-read wristwatch so he can quickly see if he needs to hurry to be on time to class. If he has a cell phone, make sure the time is set correctly and he is in the habit of checking it.

19. Meet with educators early in the school year. Give them a profile of your youngster's strengths and where she needs help.

20. Practice skills needed for difficult social situations.

21. Remind your son or daughter to make eye contact when speaking or listening.

22. Stay connected to your youngster's school work. Try to teach him to work more independently while supporting him enough to give him confidence.

23. Take advantage of summer programs — academic or recreational — offered at the new school for incoming children. Your son or daughter will get the feel for the campus in a much more relaxed atmosphere.

24. Talk about social skills. Discuss how words and actions can affect other people. Also, talk about traits that make a good friend (e.g., being a good listener).

25. Work out an organizational system with your young teen. Acknowledge and make allowances for her anxiety. At first, she may need to carry everything for all classes all the time in order to feel prepared.

Protecting Young Teens from “Bad” Media

It's hard to understand the world of young teenagers without considering the huge impact on their lives of the mass media. It competes with families, friends, schools and communities in its ability to shape adolescents' interests, attitudes and values. The mass media infiltrates their lives.

Most young teenagers watch TV and movies, surf the Internet, exchange e-mails, and listen to radio stations that target them with music and commercials and read articles and ads in adolescent magazines. However, look on the bright side. The new media technologies can be fun and exciting. Used wisely, they can also educate. 

Good TV programs can inform, good music can comfort, and good movies can expand interests and unlock mysteries. Additionally, many forms of media are being used in classrooms today; computers and cell phones are all part of the landscape. Indeed, recent years have seen a commitment to connecting every classroom to the Internet and providing a reasonable number of computers to each classroom. As a result, kids need to be exposed to media, if only to learn how to use it.

The problem is that young teenagers often don't (or can't) distinguish between what's good in the media and what's bad. Some spend hours in front of the TV or plugged into earphones, passively taking in what they see and hear (e.g., violence, sex, profanities, gender, stereotyping and story lines and characters that are unrealistic). We know from research that seeing too much TV violence appears to increase aggressive behavior in kids, and that regular viewing of violence makes violence less shocking and more acceptable.

Young people who report watching the most TV have lower grades and lower test scores than do those who watch less TV. Teachers will tell you that, in any classroom, it is very apparent who's watching a lot of television and who's not. For the children who are not motivated in the classroom, mention TV and suddenly they perk up.

As young adolescents mature, high levels of TV-viewing, video-game playing and computer use take their toll. On average, American kids spend far more time with the media than they do completing work for school. Seventh graders, for example, spend an average of 135 minutes each day watching TV and 57 minutes doing schoolwork.

Add to these negative psychological and academic effects, negative physical effects. Recent reports show that the number of overweight adolescents in American has increased greatly over the past two decades. Being overweight, in turn, can contribute to serious health problems, such as diabetes.

Negative influences also come from other media (e.g., a growing number of ads in magazines, including some for harmful products such as alcohol and tobacco, are targeted at young teenagers). Your youngster will benefit from your guidance in helping him or her to balance media-related activities with other activities (e.g., reading, talking with family, spending time with friends). 

Here are some ways that you can help your youngster make good media choices:

1. Consider buying a V-chip for your TV or a filter for your computer. A V-chip is a computer chip that can detect program ratings—X, R, PG and so on and so block your youngster from watching pornographic, violent or other inappropriate TV channels. Similar chips or filters can prevent your youngster from visiting certain Web sites. Many of these can be obtained for free or for modest costs at your local electronics store.

2. Limit the amount of time your youngster spends viewing TV. It's impossible to protect your youngster entirely from the media. Banning TV entirely may only strengthen its appeal to him. However, some moms and dads do make TV viewing off-limits during the school week, except for special programs that are agreed to ahead of time. Remember, it's easier to restrict your youngster's poor media choices if you say no before he brings home the objectionable DVDS, CDs or computer games or turns on the violent TV programs. Let your youngster know that you will monitor his media choices. 

3. Model alternative forms of entertainment. A young adolescent whose mother or father is constantly in front of the TV or checking his e-mail over a quick dinner is being sent a definite message. Moms and dads who turn off the TV or computer and engage in conversation, sports, games or other activities are showing alternatives to their kids. A teen today may well wonder "what did you do before TV?" Show them!

4. Monitor what your youngster watches and listens to. Don't just listen to how loud the music is, but to what the words are. Learn about the TV programs and movies that your youngster wants to watch, the computer games she wants to play and the music she wants to listen to. Knowing something about your youngster's interests will let you enter into her world and talk with more knowledge and force about her choices. Ask your adolescent what bands or singers she likes. Then read about her favorites in magazines or newspapers, or listen to her CDs or to the radio stations that play her music.

5. Provide alternatives to media entertainment. If you give children enough activities, the TV goes away. Given the opportunity, many kids would rather do than watch. A day at a miniature golf course or a visit with a friend may hold more appeal for your youngster than watching TV.

6. Suggest TV programs that you want your youngster to watch. Encourage your youngster to watch TV programs about a variety of subjects (e.g., nature, travel, history, science, biography, news) as well as programs that entertain. News and history programs, for example, can encourage conversations about world issues, national and local politics, social problems and health concerns.

7. Speak with other moms and dads. Discussing movies, TV shows, computer games and CDs with the moms and dads of your youngster's peers and classmates can give you more strength to say no when he wants to see or hear something that think is inappropriate. You also can quickly find out that not everyone in the seventh grade is going to be allowed to see the latest R-rated movie in which bloody bodies are strewn across the screen.

8. Speak with your youngster about misleading ads. Young teenagers are especially vulnerable to advertising. Talk with your youngster about what ads are for (i.e., to sell products) and about how to judge whether the products the ads sell are right for him. If, for example, your teenager has short, blond, curly hair, ask her if she really thinks the shampoo that she wants you to spend $25 for will make her hair look like the long, black, straight hair on the model in the magazine advertisement.

9. Speak with your youngster about the difference between facts and points of view. Young adolescents need to learn that not everything they hear or see is true. Let your youngster know that the TV show or movie she sees, the radio station or music she listens to and the magazine she reads may have a definite point of view. Talk with her about how the media can promote certain ideas or beliefs, which may different from those of your family. If your youngster wants to watch, listen to or read something that you believe is inappropriate, let her know exactly why you object.

10. Speak with your youngster about the risks of visiting computer chat rooms. Let your youngster know the dangers of "talking" online with strangers. There is software that can restrict kids from chat rooms, even as they allow access to other content.

Harmful Peer-Pressure: 10 Tips for Parents

Friendships can affect many areas of children’s lives (e.g., grades, how they spend their time, what clubs they join, how they behave in public places, etc.). Youngsters who have trouble forming friendships are more likely to:
  • do poorly in school
  • drop out
  • get involved in delinquent behavior
  • have poor self-esteem
  • suffer from a range of psychological problems as grown-ups

Kids of all ages need to feel that they “fit in.” As kids approach the teenage years, the need to be "one of the gang" is stronger than at any other age. Friendships become closer and more important and play a key part in allowing children and young teens to sort out who they are and where they're headed. They are likely to form small groups or cliques, each with a special identity (e.g., jocks, brains, preppies, geeks, etc.).

Many moms and dads worry that their kids’ friends will become so influential in their lives that their own roles will diminish. They worry still more that their kids' peers will encourage them to take part in harmful activities.

Peers do influence one another's attitudes and behavior. Over time, peers become more and more similar in their attitudes and behavior. For example, teens whose peers described themselves as more disruptive in school increased in disruption themselves over the school year.

The peak period for peer influence is generally from seventh to ninth grades. During this time, peers often influence taste in music, clothes or hairstyles, as well as the activities in which youngsters choose to participate. However, peers do not replace moms and dads. You are still the most important influence in your youngster's life. Young adolescents are more inclined to turn to their moms and dads than to peers for guidance in deciding what post-high-school plans to make, what career to select, and what religious and moral values to choose. This influence is greatest when the bond between parent and youngster is strong.

Here are some tips to guide parents in helping their children and young teenagers to form good friendships:

1. Get to know the moms and dads of your youngster's peers. You don't have to be best buddies, but it helps to know if other parents’ attitudes and approaches to parenting are similar to yours. You need to know if someone is around at the other house to supervise. Knowing the other mother or father makes it easier to learn what you need to know (e.g., where your youngster is going, who he's going with, what time the activity starts and ends, whether a parent will be present, how your youngster will get to and from the activity, etc.).

2. Get to know your youngster's peers. A good way to learn about your youngster's peers is to drive them to events (talking with them in the car can reveal a lot). You can also welcome your youngster's peers into your home. Make it a place with food and a comfortable atmosphere. Having your youngster's peers at your home can provide you with peace of mind and allow you to set the rules of conduct, as well as help you to gain a better understanding of what they talk about and what their concerns are.

3. Model good friendships. The example of friendship you provide has a bigger impact on your youngster's friendships than any lecture. Kids who see their moms and dads treat each other and their peers with kindness and respect have an advantage. Baking cookies for the new neighbor or offering a listening ear for an unhappy buddy sends your youngster a powerful message.

4. Monitor friendships to help your youngster avoid risky and unhealthy behavior. Children and young teens need supervision, including during the important after-school hours. Keep tabs on who your youngster's peers are and what they do when they get together. Don't be afraid to be the jerk that makes the phone call to the other house to make sure that your youngster is there. And don't be afraid to say “no.” Many moms and dads have different opinions as to whether a parent should try to stop the kid from seeing a friend that the parent dislikes. Many youngsters will rebel if told they can't spend time with certain peers. It is suggested that you let your youngster know that you disapprove of a friendship – and why you disapprove. Also, limit the amount of time and the activities that you allow with that friend.

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

5. Provide your youngster with some unstructured time in a safe place to hang around with peers. Activities are important, but too many piano lessons or basketball practices can lead to burnout. Allowing your youngster some unstructured time with peers in a safe place with adult supervision lets her develop important social skills. For instance, among her peers, your youngster can learn that good peers:
  • respect others
  • possess a sense of humor
  • are helpful and confident
  • are good listeners
  • are enthusiastic

Spending time with others may also help your youngster to change some behaviors that make others uncomfortable around her (e.g., being too serious or unenthusiastic, critical of others or too stubborn).

6. Recognize that peer pressure can be bad or good. Most children and young adolescents are drawn to peers who are similar to them. If your youngster chooses peers who are not interested in school and who make poor grades, she may be less willing to study or complete assignments. If she chooses peers who like school and do well in their studies, however, her motivation to get good grades may be strengthened. Peers who avoid alcohol and drugs also will exert a positive influence on your youngster.

7. Talk with your youngster about peers and about making choices. It's normal for children and teens to care about what others think of them. This makes it especially important for you to talk with your youngster about resisting the pressure to disobey the rules or go against the standards and values that he has been taught. You can talk with him about how to be a good friend and about how all friendships have their ups and downs. You can also talk about the importance of making good choices when he is with peers (e.g., “If it feels wrong, it probably is”). 

8. Teach your youngster how to get out of a bad situation. Talk with your youngster about dangerous or inappropriate situations that might arise and about possible ways to handle them. For example, ask your 13-year-old daughter what she would do if a guest arrived at a slumber party with a bottle of alcohol in her overnight bag. Ask your 14-year-old son how he would handle a suggestion from a friend to cut school and head for a nearby burger joint. Ideally, youngsters themselves can be the ones to say "no" to a potentially dangerous or destructive situation. But if they haven't learned this skill yet, one mother has this suggestion: “Sometimes children don't want to do what their peers want them to do. I tell my children to blame me—to tell their peers that ‘their mother says no’. This helps get them off the hook.” 

9. No youngster going out for an evening should be without change for a phone call. As a last resort, this may be her lifeline. A cell phone is also appropriate (if family finances allow one and if the youngster knows how to use it responsibly).

10. Have ongoing conversation with your child about ways to avoid negative peer pressure, for example:
  • "Be true to yourself. Make your own choices. Get to know who you are and what is good for you and your life." 
  • "Hang out with a range of different peers and listen to what is important to them. There is no ‘one way’ of doing or viewing things. Think about what is most important to you and who you are as a person! You might find that a different group of peers is more like you." 
  • "If someone is pressuring you to do something you don't want to, talk to someone you know will listen and help you. Keeping it inside and carrying your worries around can make things even harder to deal with."
  • "Learn from your mistakes, and learn from your peers – their successes and their mistakes. This can help you make positive choices about your own fun-loving life!"
  • "Think about what someone gets out of pressuring you to do something. Is this really for your benefit? Or for theirs? What do they get out of forcing you to do something you don't want to?"
  • "Think about what you are getting out of the choices you are making. What would you like for yourself in the future? How are the choices you are making now going to help or hinder your ability to achieve these goals? What might you do to get there in the most successful way you can?"


==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

How to Help Your Young Teen to Be More Confident

Young adolescents (13 – 15 years of age) often feel inadequate. They have new bodies and developing minds, and their relationships with peers and parents are in flux. They understand for the first time that they aren't good at everything. The changes in their lives may take place more rapidly than their ability to adjust to them.

Poor self-esteem often peaks in the early teenage years, and then improves during middle and late adolescence. At any age, however, a lack of confidence can be a serious problem, for example:
  • Young adolescents with poor self-esteem can be lonely, awkward with others, and sensitive to criticism and with what they see as their shortcomings.
  • Young adolescents with low confidence are less likely to join in activities and form friendships. This isolates them further and slows their ability to develop a better self-image.
  • When they do make friends, they are more vulnerable to negative peer pressure.
  • Some younger teenagers who lack confidence hold back in class.
  • Others act out to gain attention.
  • A lack of confidence is often linked with self-destructive behavior and habits (e.g., smoking or drug or alcohol use).

Females often experience deeper self-doubts than do males (although there are many exceptions). This can be for many reasons:
  • Females mature physically about two years earlier than do males, and this requires them to deal with issues of how they look, popularity and sexuality before they are emotionally mature enough to do so.
  • Females may receive confusing messages about the importance of achievement. Although females are told that achievement is important, some also fear that they won't be liked, especially by males, if they come across as too smart or too capable, especially in the areas of math, science and technology.
  • Society sends females the message that it is important for them to get along with others and to be very, very thin and pretty. Life can be just as hard, however, for a male who thinks he has to meet society's expectations that males have to be good at sports and other physical activities.

Most psychologists now believe that self-esteem and self-confidence represent a range of feelings that a youngster has about himself in many different situations. Teenagers may think about a number of situations: competing on the track team, studying math, dating, taking care of younger brothers or sisters and so on. A teenager is likely to feel more confident doing some of these things than others. She may feel very good about her athletic ability and skill at math, but feel bad about her dating life. She may also have mixed feelings about how good a sister she is to her baby brother. How good this adolescent feels about herself ties to how important these areas are to her. If having a very active dating life is the most important area of her life, this young lade will feel bad about herself. If being a scholar-athlete is most important area, then she will feel very good about herself.

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

Tips on how to help your young teen develop confidence:

1. Create a calm environment in your home through your own behavior. If you are anxious, you need to explain to your youngster what you are feeling and why. Kids take emotional cues from those they love.

2. As grown-ups, most of us have confidence. This confidence comes about through years of experiencing success, but also through years of exploring strengths and weakness and choosing to stress different parts of our lives. Most of us would be unhappy if we had to do only those things that we are not good at. As grown-ups, we tend to find our areas of strength and - to the extent we can – pursue these areas more than others. For a young teen, however, it is difficult to downplay the areas in which they are less confident. For instance, it’s very hard for a teenage girl with academic skills to focus on school rather than on dating, when all of her friends are dating and telling her how important dating is. For a mother or father, this can be frustrating and a cause for concern, because you know that – whether or not that cute boy asked out your daughter – it will have little consequence on her life for the long run, but you also know that she can’t yet see this!

3. Help young adolescents feel safe and trust in themselves. The ability of teenagers to trust in themselves comes from receiving unconditional love that helps them to feel safe and to develop the ability to solve their own problems. Your youngster, like all others, will encounter situations that require her to lean on you. But always relying on you to bail her out of tough situations can stunt her emotional growth. Thus, parents must teach their youngsters how to cope with the things they encounter, instead of easing the path.

4. Help your youngster to separate fact from fiction. Discuss facts with your youngster and avoid guessing, exaggerating or overreacting.

5. Listen to what your youngster has to say. Assure him that grown-ups are working to make homes and schools safe.

6. Monitor your youngster's television, radio and Internet activity. Help her to avoid overexposure to violent images, which can heighten her anxiety.

7. Praise is meaningful to teenagers when it comes from those they love and count on most (i.e., parents). Praising your youngster will help her to gain confidence. However, the compliments that you give her must be genuine. She will recognize when they are not. 

8. The best way to instill confidence in teens is to give them successful experiences. Set them up to succeed—give them experiences where they can see how powerful they are. Children can engineer those experiences. Part of being confident is having the ability to “figure out” what to do when you don't “know” what to do. Help your youngster to build confidence in his abilities by encouraging him to take an art class, act in a play, join a soccer or baseball team, participate in science fairs or computer clubs or play a musical instrument—whatever he likes to do that brings out the best in him. However, don't “push” a particular activity on your youngster. Most teenagers resist efforts to get them to do things that they don't enjoy. Pushing them to participate in activities they haven't chosen for themselves can lead to frustration. Try to balance your youngster's experiences between activities that he is already good at doing with new activities or with activities that he is not so good at doing. 

9. Talk about anxieties that are related to school violence and to global terrorism. Many kids have seen terrifying images of death and destruction on television and on the Internet. You can help your youngster to understand that although the country has suffered awful acts of terror, we are strong people who can come together and support each other through difficult times. Use historical examples (e.g., Pearl Harbor, the Challenger space shuttle explosion, etc.) to explain to your youngster that bad things happen to innocent people, but that people go on with their lives and resolve even terrible situations.

10. You can also help your youngster to build confidence by assigning him family responsibilities at which he can succeed (e.g., unloading the dishwasher, mowing the lawn, etc.).


==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

How do I get my over-achieving daughter to slow down?

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