Greetings fellow citizens:
School is now well underway for the season, and our children are busy with all the tasks that this time of year brings—school work, after school activities, home chores, etc. You readers, as parents, guardians and interested citizens alike, all play important roles in the development of our children from infants and toddlers all the way to their becoming responsible and productive citizens in our communities. We know that many of you will volunteer to assist us at the schools, especially at the elementary level, and this is a very good thing for us and especially for our children. What we also know is that once our children reach the middle school level, they are still in need of parental and community support as much so as when they were in elementary school, but that we see less of parents and community volunteers in the middle school than were involved earlier.
One of the interesting and exciting things that we know about middle school age children is that they do respond quite well to parental involvement, but that they have a different need to be met that complicates this involvement. To wit, middle school children are at the age when they need to begin separating themselves from their parents as a developmental stage they need to go through, and they substitute their peers for reassurance and guidance rather than their parents. Knowing this, and knowing that the need for parental involvement in middle school children’s lives is still crucial, a way to get greater effectiveness is to use this peer substitution for identification to advantage.
A typical middle school student will often be heard to say to his/her peers something like “my parents are SO mean” or many variations of something that seems negative about his/her parents. The child is seeking affiliation and confirmation from the peer group, in order to establish that they are distinct from their parents. That child often does NOT want their parent to be around in activities they are involved in because this worries the child that their parent will prove to be as bad as they say to their peers. The good part of this is that the child’s peers seldom will agree that the parent is “awful” once they get to know the parent themselves. So, to be effective in volunteering and being part of your child’s life in middle school is to focus away from your own child and do things with and for other middle school kids. These other kids will discover that the parent is actually pretty decent, and the good word will eventually filter to your child. Your child, who may not be able to admit it openly, is actually pleased to discover that his/her friends think well of his/her parents, as that is a direct reflection on themselves to the good. This simple strategy of being involved indirectly with your child in middle school is very powerful, and assists the youngsters to develop healthier and more lasting positive self-images; this leads to better parent-child relationships, and even better learning outcomes for your child in school.
Volunteering and participating in children’s activities at all ages is important—it doesn’t stop after elementary school. When kids see adults participating in activities and events that they themselves are involved in, they learn better what it is to become a responsible adult. They are more secure as individuals knowing the adults in their community support them, and they become more productive adults themselves with the role models that you have given them! Please consider volunteering at our schools—it does take a community to raise a child well. Contact the school district or the school principals for ways you can volunteer, whether you have a child in school or not!
Director, District 1