Transitions to Middle School: The New Normal
Five Important Conversations to Have with Your Preteen
Do you remember middle school? It was probably a blur of braces, challenging social dynamics, and puberty. What I remember most from that time is walking to and from school without supervision for the first time and being home alone after school. The shift from being constantly supervised as a child to having so much independence was scary at first, but then became my new normal.
Independence comes in many forms in middle school. It’s a lot to manage going from one teacher to seven teachers with many more subjects, homework for every class, and choices in afterschool clubs and sports. Not to mention managing one’s time, and an increased focus on social media and friendships than can suddenly become paramount.
As my child transitions from being an elementary school kid to a middle schooler this summer, I will take a lot of deep breaths and focus on having a few conversations with him:
- Friendships: We all change and grow throughout the years and so do friendships for adults and children.But kids might be shocked when elementary schools friends make new friends or distance themselves. I plan on starting a conversation about friendships over the summer to help my son ease into new social dynamics.
- Bodies: The range of body sizes in middle school is huge. Some middle schoolers look like they are 8 years old (like mine) while others look like they are 16 years old. The point is that as a preteen, your body is changing in ways that are unexpected.Also, deodorant is your friend!By the way, there is a great workshop coming up at Parents Place in Palo Alto called Girls’ Body Image and Self-Esteem.
- Shifting Responsibilities: Part of children getting older is taking on more responsibilities without being reminded by parents. It’s also our job as parents to recognize that our preteens are capable and to teach them how to do things that we expect them to take care of on their own.
After a recent battle with my son who absolutely did not want me to put sunscreen on him, Karen Friedland-Brown, Director of Parents Place on the Peninsula, asked, “How would you feel if someone was trying to apply sunscreen to your face unbidden?” Not good. It was a wake-up call that my son is definitely old enough to take on that responsibility. He is capable of that and much more.
- (Cyber) Bullying: Bullying is real. It happens in the school yard and online, but most parents don’t know about it. Hopefully, your kid will feel safe talking to you if this becomes an issue.Nowadays bullying has transitioned to mostly online/social media formats.
“Just because the bullying is taking place on a device instead of on the playground it does not change the underlying dynamic,” says Havi Wolfson Hall, LCSW, Child and Adolescent Therapist at Parents Place who specializes in cyber safety.
Havi says, “Prepare your child by talking about the possibility of people using technology to hurt others. Explore possible scenarios and brainstorm how to best respond.
“Some kids will not share if they are getting bullied online for fear of losing the privilege of their own technology use (if you allow that). Keep the communication with your child positive and ensure that if your child is involved in a difficult situation, it will not result in them losing their technology.
“Bullies bully to get a reaction from their victims,” continues Havi. “Help your child look for ways to ignore and de-escalate the situation by never replying to an attack, leaving a chat, and then blocking this contact. Empower him or her to handle any future incident with bravery and courage.”
- Making Mornings Manageable When School Starts: Having my son make his lunch the night before is guaranteed to make everyone’s morning better. Even planning the breakfast items the night before might help with first week jitters because it is one less thing to think about. Since my child’s middle school starts 40 minutes earlier than his elementary school, figuring out the commute time to school and the best route will be critical.
I wish you all the best as your preteen embarks on the wonderful adventure into middle school! If you need a little help with the transition or with any of these conversations, Parents Place is here for you to help make life’s big moments as smooth as you would like. Our team of parenting experts specializes in helping families make their best selves come forward. Contact us today!
Elina Koretsky is the Community Outreach Coordinator at Parents Place in Palo Alto.