During the tween years, school becomes more significant to your child, marking a growing emotional independence. She'll see her time in school as personal, private and separate — away from prying parents — where she can explore her personality, power, and talents; try herself out; have fun; and gain responsibility.
What you might see during this phase is your child becoming fiercely loyal to her school's approach to issues or teaching, highly defensive of any particular teacher you clearly disrespect (even if she might moan about her occasionally), or aggressively protective of her friends. She may become more nervous about parent-teacher conferences in case you say something critical about her school or say something about life at home she'd prefer was kept private. And, of course, you should try to attend as many school functions — even those that don't directly involve your child — as possible. Schools usually get children very excited about the annual fundraising fair, school play, or sports day, so the disappointment can be intense if you show little interest.
Your tween will certainly want you to be upbeat and positive about how she chooses to become involved. The tween years offer kids a perfect chance to experience real responsibility and prove what they're made of. Time spent serving on student council, working as a mediator, playing a sport, or singing in the school choir will not be time wasted or taken away from academic study, but time well spent building commitment, confidence, and cooperative skills.
If your child is shy, she may shun activities that put her in the spotlight. It won't help to pressure her, but you might suggest she ask a friend to take the first step with her, to share a job or an activity that is less exposed, such as library monitor. A shy child can find her confidence boosted once she realizes she's able to offer support to others, is reliable, and is listened to when collaborating on projects. Children who are given the chance to get involved in some school decisions have higher self-esteem, feel listened to, and develop a greater sense of ownership and pride in their school.
If optional activities are available during the school day, accept your child's choice and know that there will be wider benefits, even if they are not immediately obvious to you. Involvement will help her become action-oriented: someone who's able to make things happen, rather than someone who waits for things to happen or merely watches from the sideline.
Some tweens, particularly boys who like to play it "cool," feel more comfortable at arm's length from leadership and authority. If this is your tween, you might try to increase his responsibilities at home in fun ways, to demonstrate how he could benefit. Try to point out the life skills to be gained through involvement. If he remains generally aloof toward his school, the best response is to continue with your support, despite his hostility, because it's probably a phase he's passing through. One teacher who's a keen advocate of involvement said, "We can tap the skills they use to become rebels and rabble-rousers and make charismatic leaders out of them."
Recommended Products for Your Child Ages 11-13