Middle school is an exciting time for students — more freedom to choose classes, a more active social life and more options for sports and extracurricular activities. But all those freedoms can be tough to balance for students who are, at least developmentally, still children.
“We need to look at all the different parts of our life. Physical, emotional and social wellness will naturally carry over to academic wellness,” said Providence Day School‘s Middle School Counselor Ms. Credell Coleman. “For example, if a student has too much stress with their friends, their mind is preoccupied with the social situation and they may not have enough time or brain power to give to academics.”
Ms. Coleman makes balance a priority for her middle school students by partnering with PDS’s health and Physical Education departments to teach kickboxing, dance and yoga classes. But it’s up to parents to continue the effort to achieve balance at home as well.
Today’s middle schoolers can often be pulled in more directions than ever, with pressure to perform well academically, athletically and even socially. Add in the prevalence of new technology like social media and the hormone-induced behavioral changes that come with puberty, and it might seem like a tall order for parents to keep their kids centered.
“We can actually feel it physically when we’re out of balance, and sometimes for students you’ll see a dip in their academic life,” she said.
We asked Ms. Coleman how parents can know if their middle schoolers might need a “balance adjustment”, and what we can do to make that happen. Here’s what she had to say.
How can I tell?
Look for changes in behavior. Ms. Coleman said some are normal and natural as students go through middle school. You may see normal hormonal changes — sadness, becoming quick to anger — that come with puberty, but if you start to see prolonged changes over a course of time, it might mean something is up.
Take time to listen. Middle schoolers may not chat with their parents as much as they used to, but Ms. Coleman says a little eavesdropping won’t hurt anything.
“In middle school, lots of parents tend to become chauffeurs with their kids and friends in the back of the car. This is a great opportunity to be a fly on the wall. The backseat conversations and the little things they say to their siblings when they think we aren’t paying attention can be very instructive. You can look for body language cues as well. Our kids sometimes communicate with us in indirect ways, so actively listening and observing interactions is very important.”
Watch for academic decline. If it’s not because a class is over your child’s head, it could be attributed to poor academic/ social life balance.
Seek information. PDS has a counseling lending library with books on myriad topics related to raising children. You can also look at blogs and attend seminars to make sure you’re armed with the best and most current information. A well-informed parent is an observant parent.
What can I do?
Help your child navigate his/her new academic terrain. Ms. Coleman said middle schoolers often get giddy at the prospect of choosing their own classes, but they still need help making sure their workload is appropriate. She suggests asking your child about her strengths and weaknesses as well as what she loves to do, and help her create a schedule that feels right for her. Ms. Coleman also said study halls can be a good thing.
She said sometimes students who are working to achieve balance between academics and extra curriculars will pick a study hall so they can do their homework during the day. That way they aren’t stressed at night after practice or club meetings.
If your child ends up in a class or elective that isn’t working, help your child talk to his counselor about other options.
“The cool thing about middle school is that you get to try new stuff, and if it doesn’t work the first time, try something different,” she said.
Don’t forget to ask about their social lives. Socially, middle schoolers’ worlds often open up. Their friend group may broaden and changes may occur naturally as they interact with different students in their different electives. Ms. Coleman said it’s important to make sure those are all changes your child is comfortable with.
“Friendships sometimes do end, which can be challenging for students if it’s their first experience with that. If you used to hear about a friend all the time and haven’t in awhile, it’s OK to ask and see what you get as a response,” she said. “Sometimes it’s best just to let them know you’re here to talk when they’re ready.”
Help your child make a schedule. Organization is often not a strong point for middle schoolers, so a schedule can be a key piece to achieving balance. Sit down with your student and figure out when to do homework, when to eat and even leisure time like shooting baskets or playing with the dog after school. Ms. Coleman said as parents we need to model work/life balance for our kids, and carving out specific blocks of time for the good stuff will teach them positive mental health habits they can take far into adulthood.
Prioritize sleep. Ms. Coleman said most middle schoolers need at least 10 hours of sleep per night. Sleep is a natural healing process, but it often takes a backseat to homework, friend time and other activities at night. Work with your child to help create a relaxing end-of-the-day routine and attempt to stick to a reasonable bedtime.
Have plenty of family time, but leave room for time with friends as well. Lots of families make it a priority to eat dinner together each night, watch a special show or otherwise spend a little time as a group each day (or just on the weekends when things get hectic during the week). Ms. Coleman said that’s great, but make sure to allow your kids to have quality time with friends as well, because those relationships are important too.
Talk to your child’s counselor at any time. There’s no wrong time to call, and it’s better to ask earlier rather than later if unusual behavior is occurring. Ms. Coleman said it can be as simple as a quick phone call running the behavior by a counselor and asking if it’s normal for puberty, or possibly something else.
“We’re here and we love to be utilized,” she said.
Put yourself in their shoes. You may feel far-removed from the middle school days, but Ms. Coleman said it’s a helpful exercise for parents to reflect on what was going on in their lives when they were their kids’ age, and how those events made them feel. This can create a deeper empathy and bond for parents and kids who may be having trouble seeing eye-to-eye.
The bottom line is that balance can be achieved, but it takes some work and concerted effort.
Providence Day School
5800 Sardis Road, Charlotte NC 28270
Email: [email protected]
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