Get ready for middle school!

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Middle school: the tumultuous years when children turn into teenagers.  It’s time to take a step back and let them handle more on their own; at the same time, they still need your help and guidance.  Here’s some advice from the pros about handling those tricky tween years.

One of the biggest differences between elementary and middle school is that students begin changing classes for the first time.  This means that not only do middle schoolers have to get themselves from class to class on time; they also have to learn to manage the expectations and demands of many different teachers.

“In elementary school you have one teacher for the most part, but in middle school you have six in a semester,” says local Middle School Counselor Christina Brown.  “The students have to learn different expectations from each teacher, as well as learn to move from class to class. It requires more independence, self-direction, and organization.”  

Parents should definitely still keep an eye on their kids’ academic progress in middle school, but the burden of managing assignments and academic needs begins to shift from parent to student in these years.  “Students have to learn to advocate for themselves,” says Brown. “There is less hand-holding and more responsibility placed on the student.”

“Students at this age should begin to take ownership of their academic careers by taking initiative on homework, for example, without being reminded,” says Carmel Christian Middle School Principal Leslie Southerland.  “This particular transition takes place gradually over the middle school years, with some students reaching this goal sooner than others.”

With an increasingly demanding academic schedule and more responsibility, it’s inevitable that there will be bumps in the road.  “My advice to parents with new middle schoolers is let them fail,” says Southerland, who has seen two of her own sons through middle school.  “I don’t necessarily mean to let them fail a class, but an assignment is okay. Failure is not fatal and they can learn so much from failure, particularly in middle school when they don’t have a transcript following them. This can ultimately lead to powerful life lessons that they will take with them into high school.”

With more for middle schoolers to handle at school, parents may be tempted to ease up on their tweens’ responsibilities at home.  However, meaningful chores at home help teach life skills and build self-confidence at this age. “I always tell parents to give middle schoolers chores that impact the family instead of just themselves,” says Southerland.  “For example, don’t just make them clean their room and put away their laundry. Have them mop the kitchen, do the dishes, or take out the trash. Let them know you are counting on them to do it. Knowing you trust them with something that really needs to be done helps build self-confidence.”

Anyone who remembers middle school knows that tweens’ struggles are not only academic.  Middle school is also a time where students forge their own identities while learning to navigate increasingly complex personal relationships.  “Socially, students must learn to interact with all kinds of people and with students who they have not gone to elementary school with,” says Brown.  “They start entering the world of social media and learning to navigate interpersonal conflict and relationships. They are learning who they are personally and in relation to others. Developmentally, it is a time of testing boundaries and growing one’s self-concept.”

Southerland and Brown agree on one critical point: middle school is a time to stay involved and be there for your child for the ups and downs.  Middle schoolers tend to push their parents away. But children who demand independence and parents determined to take a more hands-off role can be a recipe for trouble.

“Know who their friends are. Read their text messages. Know where they are,” says Southerland.  “Too many adolescents shut themselves off from their parents when they may be having feelings of hopelessness or depression. We can never be too vigilant when it comes to our kids mental health.”

“Have conversations about inclusion and accepting people who are different,” adds Brown.  “Middle school students have the privilege of interacting with students of all races, abilities, and cultures, and parents play a crucial role in preparing students for this. Also, parents should check PowerSchool regularly to know what how their child is doing academically. They can see any missing assignments and if their child may need additional help in a class. They can also celebrate when their child is doing well.”

Middle School can definitely be an awkward and trying time for children and parents.  But just like elementary school, you’ll all make it through with a little love and patience!

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Mary Beth Foster
Mary Beth Foster works part time as an essay specialist at Charlotte Latin School and full time as a mom to her five-year-old daughter Hannah and her two-year-old son Henry. Prior to having children, she worked as a high school English teacher for nine years. Most recently, she chaired the English department at Queen's Grant High School. She and her husband have lived in Mint Hill with their children and their cats since 2011. Email: