• printed September 2005 issue of Middle School Parent

    Becoming a proactive middle school parent

    READ ALL ABOUT IT... the truth about tweens

    Learning about the many physical, social and emotional changes that happen during the early teenage years can assure you that most of what your children are experiencing � shifting friendships, clothing crises, mood swings and all � is perfectly normal. Check out the Web site for KidsHealth at http://www.kidshealth.com/
    kid/grow/index.html and books like the American Academy of Pediatrics Caring For Your Teenager by Philip Bashe and Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall: A Parent's Guide to the New Teenager, Revised and Updated by Anthony E. Wolf for more information.

    As children move from elementary to middle school they begin to crave more independence. At the same time, parents often wonder how much freedom to allow children to have and how to stay involved with school without invading their
    children's turf.

    The good news is there are many ways for parents to stay informed and involved without "smothering" your children's growing need for independence. And research shows that encouraging learning, setting high, but reasonable, expectations for children and making the extra effort to be involved with teen's education at home
    and in school can have long-lasting benefits. These include higher grades and tests scores, more positive attitudes and behaviors, less chance that kids will use alcohol and other drugs, higher graduation rates and fewer placements in special education.

    Creative ways to stay connected

    In elementary school there are ready-made opportunities to be involved, such as "homeroom parents" or classroom party helpers. However, finding ways to stay connected during the middle school years takes a little more creativity.
    Here are some tried and true suggestions from parents, teachers and social workers that will help keep you linked with school and your children during these early adolescent years:

    • Attend annual back-to-school events such as open house and parent conferences. This is one of the best ways to learn about the increased academic demands of the middle school and to get to know teachers and
      learn about their expectations. Keep in mind, open house is a time to listen
      and ask general questions of teachers and staff. Questions or concerns
      about children's individual performance should be saved for a private
      follow-up, like the parent-teacher conference.

      Parent-teacher conferences are a good time to get the real skinny on how
      your children are doing at school and where they need to apply themselves.
      It is a good opportunity to learn about school-based resources like academic
      intervention services (AIS) and counseling that can support children's
      school success.
    • Stay connected with technology. Many of the busy parents we spoke with
      said they found it extremely helpful to be able to double-check homework
      assignments and communicate with teachers via recorded phone messages
      and/or e-mail, at any hour of the day. Often, teachers will include suggested
      at-home learning activities for families and on-line and print resources that
      can help support the school lessons. The district Web site can also be a great
      resource for information about upcoming school events and opportunities to
      volunteer at school.
    • Attend sporting events, school performances, etc. There may not be a need
      or opportunity for you to spend regular time in your children's classrooms.
      And, in truth, having you right in their space may not be a dream for your
      kids. But you can spend time in other venues where you will meet their
      teachers and coaches and talk with their friends and their families.
      Interestingly, the families we spoke with mentioned their time driving to
      and from these types of events as most meaningful. If it's just you and
      your kids, you have uninterrupted time to catch up on their lives. If you take
      along their friends, you can observe how they interact with each other
      and gain some insight into what really matters for your children right now.

    • Offer your skills to improve the school community. Perhaps you are a writer
      who can offer a few hours a week tutoring kids in language arts, or an auto
      mechanic who can inspire kids to apply themselves to their studies with a
      talk about the complex math and science that goes into your job. No matter
      what your background, you undoubtedly have things you can share that can
      enhance the learning that takes place at school. This is true even if the
      time you spend volunteering doesn't include your own children.

      Volunteering your time in the school can help you forge friendly relationships
      with teachers and other school staff. This can go a long way toward building
      trust and softening the tension that can arise if problems develop down the
      road. It gives you an opportunity to meet your children's classmates and learn
      about the day-to-day routine at school. It also sends a powerful message
      to your children that school is important and worthy of your time.