Even after being an educator for over ten years, I would be lying if I said that middle schoolers didn’t scare me a little bit. As a passionate high school educator, I have the highest level of respect for middle school teachers and parents. Something about the newly developed hormones, mixed with all of their new challenges, and a little immaturity, they are a mysterious beast. And I’m not alone! Talk to many teachers, and they will agree to support a middle school student is a feat worthy of a gold medal!
But, these students desperately need our support because they are in a season of life that can change the outcome of their entire schooling experience.
At this age, kids are advocating more for independence than ever before. Without a structured system of support, many middle schoolers are left to navigate life on their own.
Independence can be a double-edged sword. While they are learning valuable life skills, too much independence can lead to self-destruction.
To best support a middle school student, we must first understand why it is important.
What are the Benefits When I Support a Middle School Student?
There are so many benefits when you support a middle school student. Beyond forging a healthier and more authentic relationship with them, you will also be helping them be more successful in school.
Studies show that when parents and guardians are more involved in a preteen’s life:
- Test scores improve;
- attendance is better;
- preteens are generally happier;
- and they are more likely to stay away from dangerous activities.
I have seen it a hundred times, parents think, “oh my kid is nearly an adult, so they need to act like it. It’s not my job to micromanage them anymore”. And it’s absolutely true. It’s not a parent’s job to manage their preteen under a microscope.
But try to remember your understanding of the world at 12. Did you know how to advocate for yourself to adults in your life? How to navigate bullying constructively? Did you know how to talk about your feelings?
Most of adult’s maturity is because we have had time to grow and develop. When you support a middle school student, you are saying, “Hey, we’re in a partnership here. I will expect you to be responsible, but if you need anything, I care about you”.
Just like teaching a toddler to walk, you will stand behind in the shadows, ready to jump in if they need it. But you also are willing to let them start navigating life on their own too.
Tip #1: Attend School Events
Many activities in middle school are fun. Football games, plays, and even art exhibits are a great way to participate in your child’s schooling.
But to best support a middle school student, you must also be willing to participate in things like parent-teacher conferences, back to school night, and more.
When parents are invested in their child’s education, everybody understands that you’re taking it seriously. Students will work more consistently (and sometimes harder). Teachers will know that they have somebody to call if they have a concern. And you will not be surprised when conferences roll around by a low grade or behavior problem.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t also participate in the fun events held at the school. Talent shows, band concerts, and class presentations are an excellent way for your child to showcase their passions for you to see. This is also important if you want to let your child know that you support them.
When your child participates in an extracurricular, show them that you care! Talk with their coaches, get to know their teammates, and encourage them to pursue activities that interest them.
When you participate in the events at the school, your student will know that they can’t slip under your radar. This is great news, and doesn’t have to be negative! You want to teach your child that when they do something they’re really proud of (like a presentation on the effects of drugs on the human body, for instance), that you will notice!
Tip #2: Teach Organization and Time Management Skills
One of the best things that you can do to support a middle school student is to help them lay the foundation for organization and time management skills. To avoid the risk of learning how to procrastinate, set expectations at home to streamline things like homework time, organization, and extracurriculars.
Create Systems for Organization at Home
I think we have seen it, a student opens their backpack, and inside 100 pages of graded work and homework are crushed into the bottom of the bag. Bonus points if something has leaked on top of it.
Even if you buy all of the accordion folders and binders, middle school students need help processing the paperwork and staying organized. Set a time aside each week to go through the paperwork and organize them. On Thursdays, sit down with your middle school student and empty their bag. Make three piles: trash, save, and do.
The trash pile would include graded work they don’t want to save, wrappers, and anything else that needs to go in the trash.
The save pile would include things like graded work they’re incredibly proud of, notes, etc.
Finally, the do pile would be all of the homework, test corrections, or forms that need to be signed by you.
When you do this on a day like Thursday, you can catch incomplete work that could be done and turned in on Friday. You also know what they need to do over the weekend and help get them organized for the next week.
Finally, when you sit down with them and talk through the paperwork with them, you can engage them in what’s happening in school. When they pull out work to put in the save pile, you can praise them for things they have done in school that they’re proud of.
If you want to effectively support a middle school student find opportunities to celebrate their successes.
Teach Time Management Skills
Create a routine for studying and homework in your house. This is a routine that you could feasibly use through high school. The most important thing to remember is that you must be consistent with it if you want it to work.
Teaching time management skills will help middle school students learn their threshold for what they can manage. Is your child a joiner? If they sign up for too many extracurriculars, they might get stressed out to complete their schoolwork too.
A sample evening schedule might be as follows:
3:00 School Ends
3:15-5:00 Extracurricular practice
5:00-6:00 Dinner as a Family
6:00-6:30 Math homework
6:30-7:00 English/Social Studies/Science Homework
7:00-8:00 Family Time/Chores/Independent Time
When a middle school student can predict what’s going to happen, they are more likely not to throw a fit about it. If you remain committed to a schedule (and it can be customized to meet your family’s specific needs), you will experience a more pleasant home life.
Tip #3: Volunteer at School
If you want to support a middle school student, volunteer at their school! There are many ways to volunteer in a school (when we’re not in the middle of a global pandemic).
These opportunities include working as a classroom aide, tutoring, helping with exams, chaperoning school events, and more.
Sometimes my students are mortified when their parents participate at school events. In general, I don’t really care if students were embarrassed, because having a parent/guardian who is invested in their child is a rare gift. I love the opportunity to work alongside parents, and it opens up communication between parents and the school more easily.
If your child cannot move past the social implications of having a parent in the school, volunteering for the PTA or behind the scenes might be a better option.
Tip #4: Be Invested
There are many different ways to support a middle school student, but at the core of everything, it’s vital to remember that kids notice when you’re invested in their lives.
Ask about their day. Listen to what’s bothering them. Offer advice (when asked, we all know preteens who would guffaw at guidance from an adult). Ask about their friends. Let them know that you care about their life.
When they need something, try to provide it. This includes a listening ear and an advocate. If your child is dealing with a bully, problem teacher, or something else, advocate for them! And teach them the skills to advocate from themselves.
If you are encouraging your child to excel in school so they can get high grades, perform well on tests, and get into a good school, then show them you’re invested in their lives.
Tip #5: Offer Resources
If your student is struggling in school, create a game plan to help them be successful. There are millions of resources available to students, and many of them are free through the school district.
Do they want more books to read? Use the library to check out books.
Do they need help with math? ArgoPrep has workbooks designed to accompany their classroom instruction to help them understand more clearly.
Do they need a tutor? Find an option that works for your family?
Do they need a quiet spot to work on homework? Carve out a place in your home where they escape to work on school work.
Don’t let these simple hurdles stand between your middle schooler and their success in school. Especially when there are usually solutions for most problems they run into.
Tip #6: Prioritize Attendance
If you want to support a middle school student, you must prioritize attendance.
Establish consistent habits to help your child get to school regularly. Enforce an early bedtime on school nights, provide healthy breakfast options, and establish a time in the morning that they must be ready for the day.
Find the sticky points that cause your child not to want to go to school and solve the problem. Do they not understand the work, so they don’t want to go? Pick up a resource, like an ArgoPrep workbook, to help them understand more clearly.
Are they being bullied? Meet with administrators to address the problem.
Do they stay up too late playing video games? Take technology away around 9:00 pm.
Remember, as the parent; you are allowed to enforce expectations around your child going to school. Even if they’re kicking and screaming, they should still be going to school.
Tip #7: Don’t Wait for the Call
Don’t wait for them to call you because they might not. In the meantime, your child might be struggling academically and socially.
Make it a point to reach out to their teachers once every month. A quick email should suffice. You can write something like,
I wanted to check in on how my child ___________ is doing in your class. I have noticed that they have not brought home much homework lately, is there a way I can support them at home? Do you notice if they are enjoying the work? Are they making friends in the class?
I look forward to speaking with you and partnering in __________’s academic success! Please let me know if you have any concerns. ”
Whenever I receive emails like this one, I am happy to respond, because it’s true, education is a partnership. When I know parents are invested, I want to help their child be more successful too!
I can’t count the number of times that parents start communicating only after an issue or a low report card grade. At that point, students are more annoyed that their parents are showing interest only after a negative experience.
To make it positive, don’t wait for the call!
Tip #8: Know Their Friends
If you want to support your middle school student, you must also get to know their friends. Middle school students are more independent, which means there’s a higher risk of getting involved with troublesome things.
I don’t generally worry about drug use with middle school students, but I do worry about them learning how to lie, bully, cheat, etc. These behaviors are the first step in getting into trouble as they age into high school.
When you take time to get to know their friends, you are more likely to catch troubling behaviors early on. Remember, your middle school student is still young (despite what they try to tell you!). Ask where they are going, confirm with other parents, check in on them, talk to their friends.
When you know your middle schooler’s friends, you’re letting them know that you care. Ask about their friend’s extracurriculars, “Hey, didn’t Jeff start at his basketball game the other day? How’d he do?”. These types of questions will tell your child that you’re listening and you care.
When you establish this caliber of communication, they will be more likely to come to you when something comes up, as opposed to hiding it from you.
Tip #9: Set Clear Expectations
Outline expectations for working at-home. If your preteen likes to learn TikTok dances more than work on homework, let them know that their work has to be done first.
Revoke privileges if they can’t finish and submit their work.
Establish how you expect them to use their time.
Now, more than ever, expectations at home are vitally important. Since many students are learning from home, they must know that you expect them to work. Just like there are expectations of you at your job, students should have rules and expectations to guide them at home.
Always remember that expecting a preteen to dedicate 8-hours of work to school is unrealistic. Plan for shorter (1-hour blocks) for them to work, with 10-15 minute breaks in between.
Tip #10: Celebrate Their Successes
One fail-proof way to support a middle school student is to celebrate their successes. Positive reinforcement is highly effective and should be used liberally with your middle school student.
I have seen parents approach this in a variety of different ways, including:
- Paying for good grades
- Purchasing new things (phones, toys, etc.)
- Giving them time to go out with their friends
In my opinion, the best way to support a middle school student is to celebrate his/her success by recognizing their hard work. I think that rewarding their success with things is a slippery slope (because what happens when they have everything they want?).
Instead, brag to everybody you know about how awesome your middle schooler is. Embarrass them! When they get a good grade on a test, they studied hard for, point it out at dinner time. Let them hear you celebrate them.
Even if they tell you to stop, I’d be willing to bet that they appreciate your recognition for their hard work.
Today is the Day to Support a Middle School Student
It is never too late to support a middle school student. Even if you have been in the camp of turning over responsibility to them (and allowing them to be independent), you can begin to implement these tips today.
When you support a middle school student, you are increasing their chances of being successful in school and socially.
What is your best tip for supporting a middle school student? Let us know in the comments below!
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