girl looking into camera

Helping Kids Thrive in Middle School or High School: Parenting through Opportunity and Challenge

girl looking into cameraSo much is changing all at once for teenagers—their bodies, feelings, brains, perspectives, identities, relationships with others, and more. During early adolescence most kids begin to spend more time with friends than with family. They can appear to reject their parents’ values, and seem not to need or want much by way of their parents’ time and attention.

Early adolescence (11-14) is a time of vulnerability and possibility, and whether they realize it or not, young people need their parents as much as they did as toddlers. Kids are moving toward independence, but parents still have an enormous role making sure they are safe, and increasing their chances of creating happily productive adult lives for themselves. Here are ten suggestions to help your teenager flourish:

  1. Be available. The transition to middle school or high school can be tricky, and your child may need more reassurance than usual. Be available to listen, spend time together, provide quietly invisible support, or actively engage in addressing his concerns.
  2. Establish and enforce reasonable guidelines. This is a period when your child’s ego is fragile. Treat her with respect and understanding, but also be ready to stay firm, and keep her safe if she goes off the rails.
  3. Yield control. You can avoid power struggles by allowing your tween or teenager to make as many decisions as possible. Unless you anticipate serious long-term consequences of an impending decision, provide guidance only as requested.
  4. Allow your child to suffer the natural consequences of his actions. This can be hard for parents, but is essential if you want him to grow into a responsible, competent, confident adult. For example, accept that he’ll fail a course if he doesn’t do his homework.
  5. Support her developing intelligences. Middle school is a time of rapidly changing, often confusing, and steadily escalating intellectual, social, emotional, and sexual demands. Encourage your teen to process her experiences with others, and help her make sense of what’s happening. Be alert to the possibility of bullying, whether online or in the real world.
  6. Help your child develop good coping strategies. Be honest about what works for you, and what doesn’t. Help your child identify when he’s feeling stressed, and chat about options he might find useful for dealing with his stressors.
  7. Make time for physical exercise and outdoor activities. Exercise and time outdoors are two of the most valuable tools for physical and psychological health. Encourage your young person to integrate these into her schedule.
  8. Support extracurricular interests. Whether it’s music, public speaking, volunteering in the community, athletics, or something else, pursuing an interest can provide excellent opportunities for developing competence and confidence.
  9. Help your child find balance. Be a positive role model, and support your child in establishing better habits concerning sleep, nutrition, recreational activities, and social media.
  10. Be a thoughtful advocate. The more your teenager can take on her own advocacy role, the better. Allow her to solve the problems she can, but be ready to work together to resolve troubling situations at school, home, or elsewhere.

We address all of these ideas in detail in Beyond Intelligence, Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids (House of Anansi, 2014), as well as in our blogs and published articles. See www.beyondintelligence.net

And for additional information:

Inside Your Teenager’s Scary Brain, by Tamsin McMahon (Maclean’s, January 4, 2015)

Age of Opportunity: Lessons Learned from the New Science of Adolescence, by Laurence Steinberg

The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed, by Jessica Lahey

Kids Now  A Canadian organization offering extracurricular skill-building programs for students in middle schools.

girl with ipad

Make It a Happy Start to School: Our Top 10 Secrets

girl with ipadAs children think about starting back to school, they often have questions, and so do their parents. Here are some ideas that will ease your child’s return to the classroom at the end of the summer.

  1. Plan ahead for the basics. Make sure your child has what he needs for school success: the necessary supplies, a quiet place for homework, good sleeping and eating habits, and ample physical exercise.
  2. Listen and be observant. Know what’s happening in your child’s life. Listen carefully to her worries and concerns. Think about the highs, lows, and rollercoasters of previous years, and how they might have an impact this year.
  3. Nurture creativity. There are many ways you can foster your child’s curiosity, encourage his imagination, and support his critical thinking skills. (See Beyond Intelligence for ideas about how to do that.)
  4. Be reassuring. Provide the reassurance your child needs as the school year begins, as he encounters different academic challenges, and makes new friends. Help him learn to trust that (with your support) he can find his way through tough times.
  5. Make real-world connections. Your child will be more engaged in learning if she sees the relevance of what she’s being asked to do—that is, why it matters—to herself and to others.
  6. Encourage exploration. Look together for ways to expand your child’s world, whether it’s sports, reading genres, cultural activities, second and third languages, museum trips, or something else. Encourage him to ask questions, and to find answers from various sources, including people, books, online, or elsewhere.
  7. Support good work habits. Now is a great time to focus on building a strong foundation for learning, including organizational and time management skills, effort, and persistence. (And of course, the best way to teach these habits is to model them yourself!)
  8. Make time for play. Unstructured play is where children consolidate what they’re learning and discover what they’re interested in. Talk together about how to make sure there’s enough time for free play in your child’s schedule.
  9. Find a healthy balance. Kids need challenge, stimulation, and a broad range of physical activities and learning opportunities. They also need time for reflection and daydreaming, even if that means limiting their time with technology.
  10. Advocate as needed.Thoughtful advocacy can go a long way toward making good things happen at school. By building bridges with your child’s school, you can ensure that meetings with teachers and other professionals are as fruitful as possible.

We address all these ideas in more detail in Beyond Intelligence, Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids (House of Anansi, 2014), as well as on our blogs and in our published articles. For more, see www.beyondintelligence.net