Parental guidance and support can play a huge role in a preteen or teen’s academic success. During adolescence, children often yearn for independence and want to establish their own identity. As a parent, knowing when to step in at school can be a hard call. While your kid is in middle school, there might be some situations that need your involvement and others that require a more behind-the-scenes approach.
Here are six strategies parents can utilize to help their preteen or teen have a positive and academically successful middle school experience:
- Attend back-to-school night and parent-teacher conferences
Parent involvement can have a significant impact on how well a preteen or teen does in school. While parents might neglect back-to-school nights for their middle schoolers, this is a great time to meet your kid’s teacher, ask them any questions you may have and learn about the school’s policies.
At some middle schools, parent-teacher conferences are only arranged if a teacher needs to address a student’s poor grades or behavioral problems. However, these shouldn’t be the only reasons to schedule a parent-teacher conference. Checking in with your child’s teacher can be a great way to find out how your middle schooler is doing (in and outside the classroom), your kid’s challenges and strengths, and what you as a parent can do to help your preteen or teen succeed academically. Parents don’t have to wait until the end of the term or the school year to reach out to your child’s teachers, principal or school counselor. Getting involved in your child’s schooling also includes staying informed about upcoming tests, after-school activities and events happening at school. The school’s website often has a school calendar, contact information for teachers and helpful resources for parents.
- Support good study habits and make homework a priority
During middle school, children usually have to spend a lot more time doing homework. Assignments get harder and studying for tests may take several hours.
To help your preteen or teen develop good study habits in middle school, create a designated place to do homework in your home. The study zone should be well-lit and free from distraction. While middle schoolers might need less supervision, make sure to check in with your child often when they are doing their homework. Also, eliminate distractions and time-wasters like texting, watching TV, playing video games, using social media or browsing the web. Establish a set time each night for studying and homework. Encouraging your child to adopt productive study habits in middle school helps them succeed in high school and beyond.
- Don’t neglect regular bedtimes and a healthy breakfast
In elementary school, it might have been easier to send your kids to bed early and make them eat breakfast in the morning. Middle schoolers like to stay up late and might skip breakfast because they’re in a rush to make the first bell. However, it’s important that middle schoolers get enough sleep and eat a healthy breakfast before school, which helps them have more energy, stay alert and perform better academically.
In the morning, make sure your middle schooler eats breakfast foods that are low in sugar and rich in whole grains, fiber and protein. In general, preteens need about 10-12 hours of sleep each night. Teens need about 8 ½ to 9 ½ hours of sleep in order to wake up well-rested. Even in middle school, it’s important for preteens and teens to have consistent bedtimes.
- Start instilling organizational skills
Time management skills aren’t taught in school — but for middle schoolers, it’s important to stay organized. Preteens and teens often have a lot going on during the school day, including classes with multiple teachers in different classrooms, after-school activities, tests, papers and socializing with friends.
In addition to studying, it’s important that kids develop organizational skills during the middle school years. Help your preteen or teen stay organized by having them use a calendar or personal planner, keeping their assignments for each class in order, scheduling set study times and writing down non-academic commitments. At home, you can have your child create a daily after-school to-do list for certain chores and tasks, like walking the dog, helping mom or dad make dinner and putting clothes away before bedtime.
- Have a conversation about bullying and discipline
At the beginning of the school year, parents and students should know the school’s disciplinary policies, which are usually outlined in the student handbook. The handbook usually covers things like dress code, expectations for student behavior (i.e. no fighting, vandalism or cheating), use of electronic devices and acceptable language (like no swearing).
Many middle schools have specific policies about bullying, At school, your preteen or teen might be a target of bullying, or might witness students bullying another classmate. Talk to your child about bullying at school, what to do if they are being bullied or see incidents of bullying, and why violence or retaliation is never the answer.
- Set aside time to chat about school
Along with bullying, there are many issues that arise for preteens and teens during adolescence. Middle schoolers might struggle with fitting in, making friends, finding their identity, knowing the difference between right and wrong, peer pressure, body image and self esteem, among other concerns. While middle schoolers are seeking more independence, parents and guardians are still the anchors for providing love, support and guidance.
When parents are interested in a child’s academic life, kids will take school seriously as well. Remember that the way you talk and listen to your middle schooler can affect how well he or she listens or responds. Good times to talk to your preteen or teen include car trips, walking the dog, family meals, standing in line at the grocery store, etc. For preteens and teens, knowing they can talk openly with their parents about what’s going on at school makes the challenges of middle school easier.