Many parents of middle schoolers have to make decisions almost daily as to whether and how much to intervene in their child's work — when to help and when "help" morphs into hindrance — and they find themselves veering from one extreme to the other trying to achieve the right balance.
Build a Bridge
So what is the proper balance? How do we take these babies of ours, these sweet-faced children fresh out of elementary school who are accustomed to our help with homework and class projects, and turn them into responsible students and independent thinkers?
"There are huge developmental differences between elementary and middle-school age children," says Madeline Levine, Ph.D., author of The Price of Privilege. "During childhood, parents still need to help kids organize their time and work. By middle school, kids need to begin to self-manage." Of course, just as physical changes happen in young adolescents at different times and different rates, their abilities to take on work independently will also vary.
The emphasis in middle school, says Levine, "switches to letting kids feel they own their work. It's no longer a collaboration between child and parent. It's more like, 'I'm here for you, but I have enough faith in you — after six years of school — that you can do this on your own.' This helps a child develop a sense of mastery."
Sign a Non-Compete Clause
In today's hyper-competitive atmosphere, parents can be tempted to go overboard — to get overly involved — in order to give their children an edge under the guise of "helping" them, say experts. But this doesn't help anyone; too much parental intervention robs children of the chance to learn and take responsibility for their own work, and it unfairly weights the scales against those kids whose parents have not "helped."
"It's hard for parents to back off, because everyone around them is so anxious about how their children are doing," Levine points out. She adds that in an atmosphere where performance and grades are overly emphasized, creativity suffers. And parents who hover and are over-involved blunt their children's autonomy. "It's not worth it," she says. "Will your child get an A-minus instead of a B-plus? Maybe. But like in medicine, it’s risk versus reward. The risk of stressing your kid out is so great, for a minimal reward."
Remember, too, that as academic stress levels are rising throughout middle school, there are other major changes happening to your child at the same time. In a word? Puberty. And the attendant physical, emotional, and psychological changes can have a profound impact on academic performance. A child who had previously done very well in school may, to a parent's bafflement, start to struggle. This is where having an open line of communication to your child's teacher can help, as middle schoolers are not necessarily going to tell you what's going on.