Summer is always a time of transitioning for children. Sometimes it’s just moving up one grade from the next, which can be stressful, but some transitions are more significant than others. For example, any change from one level in school to the next is more significant than merely a grade change. Therefore, transitioning from Preschool to Elementary School; Elementary School to Middle School; Middle School to High School, and then High School to College represent such “significant” changes. Much of this change not only entails academics, but also commonly involves a school change which includes lost and new friends, a new environment, and new tasks to master.
Much focus on such “significant” changes over the years has been on the transition from Middle School to High School whereby parents and educators stress that from an academic point of view, the leap is intense and the kids who were not serious about school in Middle School better shape up over the summer for high school performance over the next four years will determine where and if they will go to college.
But, it’s in Middle School when children reach puberty, engage in more of a departure from relying on mom and dad, seek intense peer relationships, become obsessed with the opposite sex, and have to perform much greater than they did in elementary school. Many high school students have told me that the transition from elementary school to middle school was much harder than beginning high school after 8th grade due to the multitude of changes that go beyond studying more, having up to 6 different teachers, and wanting to “fit in” with the popular group. Most of the stress felt by the Middle School kids has to do with physical and psychological changes which he or she has little control over. Biology doesn’t wait for the psyche to mature and in many cases the kids just aren’t ready for their bodies to become mature. On the other hand, some kids are ready and their body isn’t. These two groups, the early pubescent and the delayed pubescent are considered “risk” groups due to the multitude of tasks that a 12 to 14 year-old has to face during the Middle School years.
The tasks of the Middle School child are as follows:
1. Accepting a changing and maturing body
2. Mastering a greater separation from parents
3. More academic and social demands
4. Interest and relating to the opposite sex
5. Greater intensity in same-sex peer relationships
The “who am I” becomes a common question for most middle school children and it is not an easy one to answer given all of the changes and demands made during this two-year period of time. I see these middle school students as both a vulnerable group, but also provides an opportunity for helpful outside influences if more people are sensitive to the importance of this period of time in a child’s life. Middle school is often like a middle child. More focus is either placed in the earlier years or in the upcoming high school years, and these two significant years are then minimized and frequently ignored. Another contributing factor to this is the common attitude of this young adolescent which is frequently resistant, strong willed, and not terribly nice and friendly to their parents. Typically based on desired independence, many parents hope it is just a phase and hope it will pass once their child goes to high school. In these cases, too much distance may be created between the parent and child which then leaves this vulnerable child more alone with so much on his or her plate. A lack of enough parental involvement can then further confuse the teenager and leave more influences in the hands of their peers.
So, how can parents withstand their child’s “attitude”, but not get pushed away too far so not to help their child better manage these invaluable tasks that they need to master to better make it in both middle and high school?
1. Be aware of the tasks their child has to master and help them if needed. For example, if a child is having trouble in school, insist they get some help even if they don’t want it.
2. Be sensitive to their normal vulnerability and be compassionate. Kids will act nicer to you if you are genuinely nicer to them.
3. Continue to have family time despite resistance but try to find activities that are enjoyable to everyone.
4. Insist respect and do not allow they to get out of control. Young adolescents are like large toddlers and need the same type of loving limits when they are struggling to tow the line.
They will feel better about themselves, be more successful socially and academically and less conflict will echo in your home. You will also be helping them prepare for high school which is a stage where new and more complex tasks are right ahead of them and mastering the ones in middle school will give them a great foundation in obtaining them beforehand.