One of the most difficult transitions faced by parents and youth is that of going from elementary to middle school. Parents are often dismayed that their child who once confided every detail now spends more time alone or with friends. This may be the first time parents are called by a teacher and told their child is less focused on school than in the past. While this can be disheartening, it may help to know that much of this is a normal developmental process.
Erikson called this stage, “Identity Versus Role Confusion” to imply youths’ attempts to fit into society during this stage. As an almost teenager, youth at this stage begin separating from parents and start focusing more on peer bonding. Most parents remember going through this stage and may fear their child will make mistakes.
Know that despite your best efforts, your child is going to make some mistakes and some of these mistakes, while difficult, will help your child learn and grow. The important thing to focus upon at this stage is guiding your child so they do not make major life changing mistakes that impact their future. For example, parents will want to monitor online communications, discuss the consequences of sexual behaviors and drug use, and ensure children are safe. Mistakes such as these can be severe and include sexual abuse, disease, pregnancy, legal issues, and other serious issues. At the same time, parents cannot and should not go everywhere with their children, complete school work for them, or solve all problems on the child’s behalf. Doing so, ensures the child will not learn to solve problems needed to succeed in life.
So what is a parent to do? First, monitor your child without interfering in learning. This means knowing who your child is with or talking to online, where your child is at all times, and ensuring appropriate adult supervision when away from home. It also means allowing the child to suffer minor consequences. Adlerian therapists refer to “natural and logical consequences.” For example, a child who does not eat dinner may be hungry or a child who loses a book may have to pay to replace it. These are healthy consequences and help children learn from their own choices and mistakes without life altering consequences.
Another thing to remember, if called by the school, is that your child may be testing boundaries and focusing more on friends than homework. This may be frustrating to hear, but take heart knowing this often occurs as part of normal development. This does not mean, however, that children should not be held accountable. At this point, parents may have to become more involved in monitoring their child’s school work, friendships, and implement immediate and consistent consequences.
While this stage in your child’s life can be trying, know it doesn’t last forever. Also, much of what ensues is quite positive. Watching your child grow as they test boundaries can be humorous at times and if you do your job as a parent well, you will be proud of the person your child grows up to be.