The Family Project: Middle school
Q. My son started middle school this year, going from a small elementary school where everyone knew everyone else to a larger middle school with children from all over the district. I am really worried about who my son might pick for friends. How can I help him pick good friends? At his elementary school, all the families were close and we lived in the same neighborhood. How can I be sure that he will be safe and not get into any trouble when he goes to the homes of new friends?
The panel started by pointing out that the transition from fifth to sixth grade is huge. The students don’t know the school. They worry about what people are going to think about them. Their stress level is high. The good news is that the child in middle school won’t be leaving his old friends, but they might not be in the same classroom as they were in elementary school.
“Kids tend to make friends with kids in the same classroom,” panelist Pam Wallace pointed out, adding that the parent needs to be aware that she is not going to be able to pick her son’s friends.
Panelist Mike Daniels said the parent’s first step should be to talk to the child about what to expect in middle school. “Some of the kids he meets are going to be like him and his friends, and some are not. “What is that going to be like for him if someone offers him marijuana, or if the kid sitting next to him smells of alcohol?” Daniels asked. “These kinds of things are real, and the parent needs to talk to the 12-year-old about them, if she hasn’t already.”
Panelist Erin Stelitz observed that, beyond talking about making friends, “It’s the whole middle-school environment and culture that also need to be discussed.”
Adding to that, panelist Wanda Mercado-Arroyo said, “Peer pressure is the most important aspect at this [middle school] age. The boy needs to be prepared to confront the issues he will be faced with so he won’t be surprised. He also needs to be encouraged to talk with his parents about any issues he’s not sure about.”
Daniels cautioned that conversations need to be conversations, not lectures on what decisions to make. He should already be aware of family issues, Daniels said. “What you say is, ‘This is what you may be faced with. We just want you to be prepared. By the way, do you remember our values on sex, drugs and alcohol?’” On the positive side, middle school is an opportunity for students to experience diversity and meet all kinds of kids from different backgrounds, Wallace said. The son should be encouraged to get involved in different activities where he will meet potential friends.
Mercado-Arroyo noted, “The best way for parents to learn about their children’s friends is to invite them to your home.”
Middle school also is an opportunity for parents to get involved in the school as one way to meet the parents of the other students. “Go to parent-teacher nights with an agenda,” Daniels said. “Meet teachers, but also make it a point to meet other parents. It’s not just about the child’s academics, but about his social life, as well.” This week’s team of parenting experts are: Pam Wallace, Program Coordinator, Project Child, a program of Valley Youth House; Erin Stalsitz, casework supervisor, Lehigh County Children and Youth; Mike Daniels, LCSW, Psychotherapist, CTS, and Wanda Mercado-Arroyo, educator and former school administrator.
Have a question? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The Family Project is a collaboration of the Lehigh Valley Press Focus section and Valley Youth House’s Project Child.
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