DEAN MCGUIRE: How to help your middle school student be successful

When children begin middle school, they are immediately faced with many new challenges. They now have multiple teachers, a locker, new surroundings, higher academic expectations, extracurricular activities, a reduction in recess time, dramatic changes in physical development, new social  dynamics and an increase in personal responsibility. Many middle school students struggle to figure out where they fit in with all these new changes.

Before students can concentrate on the academic part of school, they have to deal with all the physical changes that are taking place with their bodies. Many students find it difficult to cope with the many changes taking place and some compare themselves unfavorably to peers. These rapid changes sometimes cause students to be awkward or uncoordinated with their movements.

In addition to students dealing with their physical changes, there also are many changes taking place at school. Most students will now change classrooms for each class period. Along with changing classes, the academic expectation increases substantially.

Most students will see a significant increase in work needed to be completed outside of the classroom. The added workload results in students needing to be more organized and responsible for their work.

Their bodies are rapidly changing and the academic standards are more rigorous. If that wasn’t enough, there is the social aspect of middle school. Students are increasingly concerned about the acceptance of their peers. As a result of this, they have a strong need to belong to a group, with peer approval becoming more important than what their parents think.

They tend to be more self-conscious and highly sensitive to personal criticism. They often believe that their problems or feelings are unique to themselves.

Middle school students often battle with the following types of issues on a daily basis: Why does my friend Sally talk poorly behind my back to other girls? Who will be invited to Johnny’s birthday party this weekend? What does it mean if I don’t get invited? How come Ben is so much better at math than I am? I work just as hard as he does. How come that group talked to me yesterday and today they are making fun of me?

For many students, middle school is the first time they get involved in extracurricular activities. This can be very rewarding for those who excel in the activity. It also can cause stress for those who feel they don’t “measure-up” to their peers.

With all of these challenges that face middle school students, what can parents do to help?

  • Remind your child that the “awkward” growth spurt is normal and everyone goes through it. Emphasize the need to get plenty of sleep, eat well and exercise.
  • Talk to your child daily about what he or she did in school. With email, it is easier than ever to communicate with teachers. Take an interest in what they are doing in school.
  • Be involved with school activities as much as your time will allow. There is a strong correlation between parent involvement and middle school success!