And Now Middle School

As school winds down for this year, parents of preteens are beginning to wonder what Middle School might bring. Two of the most dreaded transitions come when a child leaves elementary school and again when it is time for high school. How you spend this summer can make a huge difference in how your new middle school student will perform next year.

Elementary school children are typically closer to their parents. They haven’t decided yet that you should drop them off a block away because they aren’t so proud of what you are driving. Sleepovers still occasionally happen, even if it is much less often. Since mobility is a bit of a problem, your 8 year old or 10 year old is more likely to want to tag along when you go to the store. Depending on how you handled the electronic devices question, you might even still have some good conversations while in the car.

Parents remain the most important influence in a child’s life. Despite all the competition and distraction, a caring parent is preferred over virtually any other source of information and guidance. During the middle school years, this influence will begin to lessen and the distance between you and your child might begin to increase. With a few adjustments in your parenting style, there is no need for this distance to become a problem.


The first adjustment comes when you begin to notice the distance increasing between you. A child that was excited to leave the house with you is content to stay glued to the television or a video game rather than tag along. The time to push back on this growing distance between you isn’t when you are walking out the door. Just make a mental note and come back to the cause another time. For instance, if you don’t have a limit on screen time, you should establish one soon. Take this opportunity to begin adjusting your expectations on how much your child is willing to be with you. It will begin to lessen now that they are getting older.


A second adjustment occurs when they appear less interested in sharing the details of their lives with you. A child who came in and told you all their secrets may show resistance to some of your questions about their friends. While it should be cause for concern if a child has too many secrets about their friends, it may be time to adjust to how many details you are able to learn from them. It’s okay to ask teachers and others for recommendations about the companions your child chooses; everything doesn’t have to come from their mouth. A little distance is acceptable but total secrecy should be a huge red flag.


A final adjustment should occur in the number of outside activities your child participates in. It is normal for our children to try a variety of things during their early years that narrow down over time. Activities or lessons in music, gymnastics, sports, scouts and church will be a difficult schedule to keep during the secondary school years. Encourage them to pick a couple and welcome their desire to change from year to year. Insisting they finish what they start for a season is good training but pushing them to keep up with all the practices and skill development on a half dozen outside activities is unsustainable.


Endeavor to assume more of a coaching role than a confidant role during your child’s older years. Project confidence in their decision-making ability and let them learn from their poor decisions. Resist the urge to fix everything that goes wrong and especially resist the urge to prevent anything from going wrong. Mistakes and disappointments form character when loving parents are willing to communicate their support. Show more empathy than expertise. They will love you for it.

Dr. Matt Crain writes weekly for the Sunday newspaper from his Connecting Fathers and Families ministry.