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Moving from Middle to High School

Brought to you by National PTA

Moving Up
The move from middle to high school is one of those times when your child needs you most, but is often too embarrassed to ask for support. You may have noticed that your child is beginning to push away from you. Try to respect this. On the other hand, it's important to balance a respect for your child's desire for independence with a very real need to stay involved in his life and education.

Starting high school is a major rite of passage for adolescents, says George White, associate professor of educational leadership at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and a former middle-school principal. The social and emotional fears that incoming freshmen deal with can have a direct impact on their academic performance.

Changes at School
The difference in size of your child's old and new schools can have a big impact on her transition, says school psychologist Sal Severe, author of How to Behave So Your Child Will, Too! Kids from smaller school districts may face a kind of culture shock in large, regional high schools. Larger class sizes, more students, a bigger campus, and teaching styles more focused on the subject matter than the needs of individual students can be difficult for incoming freshmen.

"Parents should expect schools to provide a protective growth environment" for incoming freshmen, George White says. The developmental divide between ninth-graders, who could be as young as 14, and upperclassmen, who could be over 18, can be extreme. Exceptionally bright ninth-graders can end up in classes with much older teens and may be unprepared socially. "There's a wide range of social development in high school. What you have to have is a socially safe place for younger individuals."

Ninth-graders also face a big step down in social status, going from the top of the heap in their previous school to the lowest rung in high school. They arrive as the new kids, the young ones, the ones who don't know what's what and who's who.

Tips for Parents
It's important to keep the lines of communication open with your child throughout this period. White likens this to the experience of learning how to ride a bicycle. "When I learned to ride a bike, my father ran behind me with his hand on the seat. When I could ride without his support, he still ran behind me for a while." Although your child is becoming independent, she needs support during the process that only you, as a parent, can provide.

Sometimes parent involvement drops off because parents feel their children don't want them to be around so much. "Kids want their parents involved; they just want them to be involved in a different way," White says. For example, your teen may not mind if you act as a chaperone on a school trip, as long as you ride on a different bus than him.

Parent involvement can also take a number of forms at home. There are plenty of ways to spend time with your child and get to know her friends. Suggest that she invite her friends over to watch movies or hang out. As the kids drift in and out of the kitchen for snacks, take the opportunity to ask your child's friends casual, non-intrusive questions to get a sense of who they are, and to send your child the message that you care.

Excerpted from "School Transitions: Middle School to High School," published in National PTA's Our Children magazine.

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