Congratulations! You and your children have survived the first weeks of a new middle school year. Undoubtedly you have a number of concerns about their academic and social experiences, and you may even find yourself missing the days when your greatest worry was whether or not they would cry when you dropped them off and if they would remember to tell the teacher when they had to use the bathroom. There is an old saying “Small kids, small problems; big kids, big problems” and it seems as if you begin to learn the true meaning of the latter part of that phrase the day your son or daughter starts middle school.
There have been countless books and articles written about social hierarchies and pressures among middle school students, and you may find yourself wondering where your child fits in his or her school. While it is true, sadly, that some kids my fit snugly into the description “bully” or “victim” or “outcast,” most kids find themselves falling somewhere in-between on that enormous social spectrum. If you are one of the lucky (few) parents whose child reveals the details of the highs and lows of their social adjustment, you already know that they come home bragging of popularity one day, and crying of rejection the next. If their world is as mysterious as the solution to rising fuel costs, your are certainly not alone.
The most important thing to understand is that withholding the details of their day is normal, complete withdrawal is not. Keeping in mind that the older they get the more they value their privacy, try engaging them when they have “no escape” like during a car ride. That way, they can’t walk away from you but they are also “off the hook” once you arrive at a destination. Avoiding awkward or troubling topics at meal times may also be a good idea, as keeping eating as family an enjoyable, relaxing experience is also important.
Try to remember that middle schoolers have days that are as fickle and erratic as their hormones. Pure elation one day and absolute devastation the next is normal. When should you worry? Use common sense. Constant low mood and sudden change in social connections deserves a conversation. Remember: trouble with friends is not only sad for a middle schooler, it may also be embarrassing to them so be sensitive. Looking for a trustworthy, non-invasive, free look into your child’s social world without them ever knowing? Call their teachers. Adults choose to teach fifth through eighth grade not because they are crazy, but because they love working with kids that age. A good teacher can (and will want to) help your child socially as much as he or she does academically.
Raising a middle school-aged child has its share of both excitement and anxiety. As they grasp at every piece of independence they can grab, stay in contact with their world through conversations with both your children themselves and the adults you entrust them to everyday.