5 Tips for Middle School Social Success
By Paul Baly
As your child grows into adolescence, social interactions can become a minefield. Whether face-to-face, online, in a group or one-on-one, navigating changing relationships in the transition from childhood to adulthood can be difficult. Many adults don’t remember middle school fondly, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t expect our kids to be happy during that time in their lives! As their parents, we want to make sure that we help them build the skills that will serve them well as they make new friends, adapt to changes in their bodies and moods and establish meaningful relationships with the authority figures in their lives. Here are some tips that will help smooth the way:
Be alert about drastic changes in the friend group. While you can’t be with your child all the time, it’s still your responsibility to know who their friends are. Do they seem to have picked up all new friends since entering middle school? Do you know these friends’ families? Do they seem to share the same values and your child and your family? While new friends could simply signal new interests, asking a few simple questions will lead to a deeper discussion and allow you the opportunity to reinforce your behavioral expectations.
Utilize your school’s resources - good schools have resources that students (and their families) can tap into as children go through adolescent changes -- such as a guidance counselor or school therapist or a learning support specialist who can help with the increased academic or organizational challenges that can sometimes affect teens’ sense of self-esteem. You can also find out what your child school offers to help them adopt better social behavior, such as a digital citizenship or anti-bullying curriculum.
Take time to talk about feelings. When everything appears to be going well with your child and your friends, you might not think that you need to explore their emotions about the rapid changes that they are experiencing. But you do. Knowing that their parents understand (and that they have a safe place to vent) is key.
Make sure that your child is known well by at least one teacher- in some middle schools, grades are broken into advisory groups in which small groups of students get to know one another and a single teacher better. This brings middle school down a more manageable size and ensures that your child won’t fall through the cracks.
Acknowledge that childhood friends sometimes need to take a break - and that break could be permanent. We’ve all seen how the ‘forever friend’ suddenly turns into annoying peer or fierce rival. While your first instinct might be to try to put the pair back together again, hear your child out. There may be a good reason why they want to spread their wings. As long as the break isn’t done in a cruel way, resist the urge to intervene.
Middle school can be an incredibly exciting time as you watch your child grow into the adult that they are going to become. But they can’t get there without you! Although this may be the time the start to push you away, coming up with a plan to stay involved will yield dividends as they move into high school and beyond.