Every child handles the changes that come with growing up differently. Starting in middle school, you'll witness your child tackling independence in all walks of life, adding new responsibilities at school, at home, and with friends. While it can be a rocky road, there are some sweet rewards on the way.
The adjustment to middle school can be quite a wake-up call. In fact, most kids this age handle the changes much the way they react to a blaring alarm clock: they either groan, hit the snooze button, and roll back under the covers, or jump out of bed right away and rise to the challenge. Your middle schooler may need an extra nudge to accept new schoolwork responsibilities. Without pushing too hard, talk about his goals for school and even his career. These will change over time, but doing his work well now will help him with whatever his future ambitions may be. Some middle schoolers avoid homework because they aren’t sure how to handle the new workload. Offer organizational ideas such as an essay-writing plan or a research-report outline.
With encouragement, tweens often will blossom and show increased interest in extracurricular activities. One mom from Fairfield, Connecticut, recalls that sports improved her son's independence: "When motivated by the sports he's involved in, he's very responsible about getting himself up early and arriving on time at practices and games — even getting up early on weekends and in the summer!" It's a joy to watch your child pursue his passions; be sure he knows how proud you are.
What happens around the house as your child takes on middle school? Though tweens are capable of greater responsibility, their busy schedules (and newfound defiance) mean they may balk at new household duties. Assess your child's past habits to help form your expectations for what he can handle. Set guidelines about what needs to get done before he can go to a friend's house or participate in after-school events. Be clear, firm, and fair. If he wants to enjoy his independence, he must earn it by taking on responsibility. Try chores parallel with rewards: if he does his own laundry, you increase his clothing allowance, for example.
For most kids, peer pressure comes on very strong in middle school. So when it comes to your child's social life, seeing him make good decisions can be incredibly rewarding. What kind of rules should you set, and how much freedom should you give?
"Early adolescence is a time for risky behaviors, so parents should be vigilant about standards,” says Allan Tasman, M.D., professor and chairman of the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Louisville School of Medicine. “Kids are going to try things, which may lead to fights, but give clear boundaries and be adamant about the consequences of breaking those boundaries.” And yet — here's where it gets tricky! — you don't want to go too far. "Parents sometimes impose too much during a period where kids are creating distance," says Tasman.
As you watch your child move forward into the world of middle school, stop and take notice. See how he rises to accept the responsibilities ahead of him. This new independence will continue evolving — so if there are bumps in the road, you'll be there to help steer him towards adulthood.