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By Beverly Stewart, M.Ed.

Interim progress reports have arrived in mailboxes recently and some parents may not be pleased with what they find. For those students who have recently made a transition – from grade school to middle school, or middle school to high school – the new environment can be overwhelming. This is often apparent by a sudden change in grades. Your former straight-A student is struggling with math… and science and English…and lockers…and time management. The list goes on.

There are many reasons for this change. For the elementary school student now faced with the challenges of middle school, leaving the cozy atmosphere of a primary school can be scary. Middle school students must face daunting tasks such as changing classes, using a locker, and working with a variety of teachers – often for the first time. And with mixed emotions, they face less hand-holding by teachers and parents.

For the new high school student, the changes are even greater. A larger environment, additional responsibilities for in-class work and homework, being low man on the totem pole, plus the looming pressure of college or choosing a career, can turn high school into a veritable pressure cooker.

So, what is a concerned parent to do? Before you panic, first recognize that transitions are challenging under the best of circumstances. Now add in raging hormones and peer pressure to fit in — you can see why your formerly unflappable student may burst into tears over Algebra homework or a History essay.

To ease this transition, there are a few easy-to-implement tips that should help not only your student, but your entire family through this transitional phase.

1. Make sure your kids are getting enough sleep! According to the American Sleep Disorders Association, the average teen needs approximately 9 ½  hours of sleep each night. But studies have shown that most kids make do with 7 ½ hours or even less. Set aside a specific time for homework and don’t let kids dawdle over it until it’s past their bedtime and there’s still a list of Spanish verbs to conjugate.

2. Help them get organized. The widespread distribution of school Daily Planners is a wonderful idea. But oftentimes, students have no idea how to effectively use them. Show your child how to transfer data to the planner, such as quiz or test dates and project due dates, as well as how to plan out the tasks that need to be done daily. That way the student can see at a glance what the coming week holds. It will also save those late-night trips to the store to purchase poster board or other materials for a project they “forgot” was due the next day!

3. Don’t underestimate the power of an older sibling who has already navigated this transition. Stories of “when I was your age” mean much, much more when they come from an age peer, unlike parental reminiscences, which are often met with rolling eyes and groans.

4. Stay in touch with teachers and administrators and email or call with questions and concerns if warranted. But be aware that “helicopter parenting” is frowned upon by most school administrators and teachers at both the middle and high school levels. The goal is always to assist your child, not do the work for them. A growing sense of independence is key during the teenage years, so resist the temptation.

Believe it or not, these trials and tribulations generally ease up after a few months when most students have “settled in” to their new environment. They may still grouse when they have to catch the bus in the morning, but you can feel confident that this is just another example of that delightful condition known as teenage angst!

This article first appeared in the Hockessin Community News.

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