As parents of three children, including two teenagers, we know the challenges that come along with raising future adults. Fluctuating social circles, first-time romances, bullying, and all kinds of outside influences can make this time in their lives full of challenges. The values, morals, and education we instill in our children, especially during their middle school years, will have a significant impact on the adults they grow up to be. In fact, research shows that “sixth graders who receive a failing grade in math or language arts, have an attendance rate of less than 85 percent or have one unsatisfactory behavior grade in a core course only have a 15-25 percent likelihood of graduating on time.” (Middle School Matters)
The stakes are high in the early teen years, but as parents, you can be your child’s biggest advocate, cheerleader, accountability partner, and even phone confiscator. Here are four ways to help your young teen not just survive middle school, but thrive and grow up to be a well-rounded, compassionate and successful adult.
- Challenge Your Teen
Whether it’s basketball, art, piano, faith, volunteering, or another interest, encourage your middle schooler to try different activities. Get your kid out of their comfort zone and find opportunities to stretch themselves. Enroll in an unexpected elective. Try a new sport or take an art class. All three of our children attend Ohio Virtual Academy (OHVA). OHVA has a rich, well-rounded curriculum, and attending public school at home also allows our teens to take college classes at Ohio Christian University. Giving them exposure to a college environment in their early teens further challenges them to develop new skills and grow academically and socially.
- Set Goals
In addition to trying new things, encourage your child to flourish with whatever they already enjoy or are good at. This will provide them a structured way to develop their passions while having fun. Goal setting is a critical life skill. Middle school is the perfect time to teach and develop this skill. Whether in life, academics, career, or faith, working with your teen to set and reach achievable goals allows them to focus on what’s important – being a good friend, student, and citizen. When they reach their goals, they will start to develop confidence in who they are and what they can achieve!
- Give Back
Giving back to our community is dear to our hearts and part of our faith. We hope to instill these values in our children. Since kindergarten, our children have volunteered at a local nursing home. They write holiday cards for veterans, serve meals, and participate in toy drives. Giving back helps remind teens that there are others out there who are less fortunate than we are, gives them a sense of purpose, and can help them develop critical leadership skills they can use throughout their lives. Giving back may even help children struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts.
- Be All In
Whether your child attends an online school like OHVA, a blended learning environment, or a traditional brick-and-mortar school, helping him or her achieve success takes discipline. It is a lifestyle. You can’t be partially engaged, you can’t do it halfway. You are all in. This is especially true in middle school when teens are becoming more independent but are still developing critical life skills like positive study habits, managing their sleep schedules and coping with stressful situations. As parents, we need to provide them with structure so they can successfully navigate this time in their life.
Being all in also means being committed to growth as a parent. There is no such thing as a perfect parent, but there are parental strategies that are better than others. We don’t know what we don’t know, therefore we should commit ourselves to reading (or listening) to books on parenting. If we don’t want our children to learn everything the hard way, but to learn from our experience, then we should set the example and learn from the experience of others.
Teens are surrounded by outside influences, both negative and positive. As parents, it is our job to be their support system and the biggest positive influence in their lives. By following these four simple steps, you can keep your teen on track to success in middle and high school, college, and beyond.
About Cassandra and Jamar Haynes-Lee
Cassandra and Jamar Haynes-Lee are parents of three children, Judah, Jael and Jedidiah. They reside in the Columbus area, where the children attend public school and the family enjoys spending time together volunteering, attending church, and giving back to their community.