Boys and girls who enter middle school for the first time have more on their minds than reading, writing and arithmetic. So do their parents. As a longtime middle-school teacher, I know that these adolescents – even though they work extremely hard at appearing cool and aloof – have heard stories about what goes on in middle school, and they are concerned. As a parent, your best line of defense is to initiate targeted, yet nonchalant, conversation with your son or daughter.
Effective Timing and Trust
You can’t hit your child over the head with it – you have to pick effective talk times, such as when you’re riding in the car together, helping to braid her hair or taking a walk. Don’t make direct eye contact or go on the attack against her generation. Try opening the dialogue with “A lady at work said she found out her 12-year old son is drinking alcohol” or “I saw on the news that a school aide was bullied on the bus.” In a calm, nonjudgmental tone, ask your child what she thinks of the situation and how she’d handle it. She may turn it around and ask your opinion – and she’s probably listening to you more than you might realize. Don’t blow these opportunities by acting shocked or upset. Your child is gauging your reaction and determining whether or not she will broach sensitive topics with you in the future.
Dating and Sex
Middle-school students typically call this “hooking up.” Not all kids interpret “hooking up” in the same way, however. Tell your child you’ve heard the term and were wondering what it means. To many students, it is no more than two people saying they like one another and possibly sitting together at lunch or going as a couple to a school dance. Unfortunately, it means much more to others. As horrible as this may sound, a popular trend in this age group is having oral sex: many kids don’t consider it “real sex.” Additionally, more than once, my students delivered the disturbing news to me that one of their middle-school peers wouldn’t be returning to class due to pregnancy. At this age, boys and girls are easily influenced because they want to fit in. Never assume they’re too young for these conversations.
Smoking, Drugs and Alcohol
The restroom at school is still the popular spot for sneaking a cigarette. However, at many schools, lighting up a joint is just as popular. Misery loves company, so kids persuade others to join them in case they get caught. Another common move is putting clear alcohol, such as vodka, in a container and then sharing it at a school dance or function. Some students don’t stop to think about the ensuing consequences. Talk to your child ahead of time, so he realizes black marks like these don’t go away easily: they result in suspension or expulsion, and they close doors to other opportunities.
Bullying and Acceptance
In a previous article, I gave several tips on preparing your child for possible bullying at school. Unfortunately, bullying is on the rise, so equipping your son or daughter with techniques to divert it is essential. However, you should also talk to your child about the fact that students who stand by and watch bullying happen – or worse yet, encourage it – are just as guilty as the perpetrators. Assure your child that teachers, administrators and counselors will keep his identity safe if he reports a problem. He could also be saving a life.
Click here to read more articles by this author.
image credit: morguefile/phaewilk