The middle school years can be tough, but they’re also rich with opportunity. Your kid is becoming more fully who they are (and testing all the boundaries along the way). They’re building relationships independently from you, finding their passions, and thinking about big issues that affect their lives.
It might seem like there’s not a lot we can do for them now—especially since they don’t want to spend a lot of time with us anymore. But they still need us. Read on for strategies to help your tween navigate the demands of school, build their study and life skills, and think ahead to high school and beyond.
What to Focus On
Thinking & Learning
Reading, Writing, and Discussing Complex Topics
Elementary school is all about the building blocks of learning—reading, writing, and math. Middle school is where your kid really starts to put those building blocks to use. They’ll be asked to consider multiple points of view, ask bigger and tougher questions, and think more deeply about complex issues in the world, from climate change to immigration to technology.
Developing Media Literacy
Your child has likely been getting comfortable with technology for a few years now. But in middle school their exposure to the digital world will really take off. What kinds of skills should they develop during these years to navigate the on- and offline media around them?
Math Gets Real
Okay, now the math homework is really getting too hard for us to help with. Your middle school mathematician is delving deeper into geometry, building a foundation in algebra, and applying math to real-world situations. The equations might sound out there, but middle school math matters: mastering math now sets them up for success in high school—and even for earning their diploma and heading to college.
What’s Going On With Science and Social Studies?
In elementary school, it can feel like literacy and math are The Big Subjects, with science and social studies taking a back seat. But by middle school, your child should have both science and social studies as a consistent part of their school day. The curriculum can vary widely by school, but you can still expect your child to be learning a core set of skills in each subject.
Leveling Up Their Study Skills
Your child probably spent some time in elementary school working on skills like time management, staying on top of their assignments, and organizing themselves at home and school. But now they have to do a lot more on their own, so they’ll be building on those skills and extending them.
Staying Safe and Smart Online
It’s a lost cause to try to keep your middle schooler offline all together. But while you still have some influence over them, it’s a great time to set boundaries, expectations, and help them develop the tools to live in the digital world in ways that feel safe and smart.
Social / Emotional
Who Am I, Anyway?
Ahh, middle school. The social dynamics. The drama. The feelings. Wouldn’t you love to go back and experience it all over again? Just kidding, neither would we.
Making Tough Decisions
Just like these are the years to have conversations about staying safe online, it’s also the time to talk about staying safe in the world. Your tween needs to build the skills to navigate peer pressure, changing social dynamics, and the difficult choices they’ll be presented with as they get older.
How to Help Your Tween
3 Ways to Support Your Child’s Development at Home
Keep the lines of communication open. Your kid might not want to talk to you that much anymore. Keep bugging them anyway. Seek out conversations at unexpected times when they might have their guard down; for example, in the car (some parents find their tweens are more willing to talk when they’re not looking at each other face to face), or during an activity, like while you’re shooting hoops together or making dinner.
Think through a family technology plan. While you still have (some) influence over your children, consider crafting a family technology agreement together. In it, you’ll all agree to some boundaries around tech use in your home; for example, no phones at mealtimes, or an hour of downtime before bed, or whatever works in your family. If your kid has their own phone now, the agreement should include rules about its use and your level of access to what’s on it. (Spoiler alert: We recommend having full access to all your kid’s text, email, and social media communications at this age.) And if you’re thinking through the right time to give them a phone of their own, here are some things to consider.
Ask about their friends. In middle school, the sphere of influence shifts: You used to be your kid’s primary influence. Now it’s their friends. (Terrifying, right?) You won’t be able to choose their friends, but you can still get a sense of who they’re hanging out with. Ask about what they do when they’re together, what they talk about, and how your child feels about the friendships. When you can, get to know their friends’ families, too—it’ll give you a chance to make sure you’re comfortable with your child being in their home independently (here are some good tips for asking about firearms in the house.) The more you know, the more you’ll be able to guide your middle schooler toward positive relationships and away from negative ones. But above all, be cool. You’re going to have to do this stealthily.
It's time to
Make a Plan for High School
The big final K-12 hurrah is on the horizon: high school, of course! If your child’s high school placement isn’t already determined, it’s time to start gathering information on applications, tests if applicable, and deadlines. Then, as high school looms closer (like the summer before ninth grade), it’s a good time to start thinking about course selection. They don’t need to decide right this minute—and many schools will have pretty consistent requirements for ninth graders—but they will likely have some amount of choice, so they’ll want to start considering questions like what language they’ll want to study, electives they’re interested in, and what types of extracurriculars they’ll want to pursue.
All Tween Resources
5 Common School Dilemmas and How to Talk About Them at Parent-Teacher Conferences
What Parents Need to Know About Assessments
What Are All These Tests, Anyway?
What Parents Need to Know About Dyslexia
The Busy Family’s Guide to Summer
How to Help Our Kids Process the Hard Stuff
7 Ways to Take the Hassle Out of Homework
What Parents Need to Know About Rewarding Hard Work and Good Behavior
A Few of Our Favorite Sites for Living Life with Kids
How to Be a Good Digital Parent Toolkit
The Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) offers this helpful resource for keeping your kid safe online and being a good digital role model.
Run by the American Academy of Pediatrics, this parenting website focuses on, well, healthy children. Check out their resources for navigating conversations about puberty and much more.
StopBullying.gov provides information on what bullying is, what cyberbullying is, who is at risk, and how you can prevent and respond to bullying.
Common Sense Media
Our go-to resource for trusted movie, book, and app reviews.