Your child will likely face many transitions in her life, but entering middle school, high school, and college are undoubtedly three of the biggest. Each brings the possibilities of new friendships and experiences but also more independence and autonomy which, as most parents know, is not always a smooth road for young adults.
The key is to remember that they are just that - young adults - and now is the time to start preparing your child for the challenges and situations she will surely face throughout her life. Balancing a social life and daily responsibilities as well as money management are keys to a successful future and supporting your child as she develops these skills is important. Make sure she knows you are always there to offer guidance and use these tips as your child transitions through three of the most crucial times in her educational and social development.
Assist with summer readingYour middle school student will likely be tested on his summer reading when he returns to school in September. Help set a weekly goal for summer reading then step back and allow him to follow through. Earning extra allowance or earning an extra half hour on curfew one night may motivate your child to get his work done, but if you have an agreement and he breaks it, it is important that he not get the reward. While this may seem harsh, it is a great lesson in following through for your middle school student. Middle school teachers are looking for your child to complete work independently and there are consequences for not doing so. His grades could be lowered or he could have to stay after school to complete work. Setting up a system where your child is reinforced for completing work without you hounding him will get him ready for more responsibilities come September.
Strengthen the lines of communicationYour middle school student is about to enter a socially-challenging time. Middle school often proves to be students least favorite years in school, as children's bodies, preferences, and attitudes are changing and peers are quick to judge. While girls tend to use more verbal or non-verbal approaches and boys tend to use more physical means, bullying is common at this age in both genders. Clearly- and often- remind your child that you are there to listen. Knowing that Mom or Dad is a phone call away is very comforting for a child who is entering young adulthood and unsure of her steps. Repeatedly tell your child that you are proud of her, you love her, and that you are always there for her. Although children at this age often don't seem to be listening, they are. Make sure you let her know she can count on you and she may just call in that favor.
Set clear expectations for social outingsThis is again a time when your child is likely to test his boundaries and break the rules you have set. Be clear on what you expect of him, whether it be a curfew, who he is allowed to be in the car with, or where he is permitted to go. Some parents offer a half hour added to curfew each school year. Whatever your rules are, be clear on them and the consequences of breaking them. If you say he is going to be grounded for a weekend if he breaks curfew, then he needs to be grounded if he comes home late. If your child knows you are serious, he is going to consider his choices with you in mind. If he knows you are going to bend the rules or change them midway through, he is going to see what he can get away with. Be clear, be firm, and be proud when he follows the rules!
Help choose extra-curricular activitiesHigh school is a time when children try different sports, clubs, or activities in an effort to establish their own identity. Make sure your child understands the time commitment involved in each club or sport she is interested in and how this will affect her studies. The workload in high school is often more time consuming than middle school and this may be a difficult adjustment for her. Most coaches or advisors will have meetings in the beginning of the year to give important information out, such as schedules of practices and games, financial commitments, and expectations for the season. Get a copy of any paperwork handed out and review it with your child. Decide on activities that allow study time and some down time, which is often neglected during these years.
Pack Up! Many home goods stores and department stores now have generic packing lists for incoming college freshman. This is a great starting point so you don't miss out on important items, like a shower caddy, flip flops, and a bathrobe. (As any college sophomore will tell you, these items are life savers, especially for co-ed dorms!) Also, have your child contact the housing department at his college to see if there are any larger items he will need to bring, such as a microwave or a small refrigerator. Most schools have clear rules on what is allowed in dorm rooms and many offer rentals of such equipment at a reasonable fee. There is much to be said of having the comforts of home while away for the first time!
Encourage your child to be a savvy saverOne of the biggest pitfalls of college students in America today is the credit card. The average student comes out of college carrying between $3,000 and $7,000 worth of credit card debt, in addition to an average $21,000 in student loans. Encouraging your child to have a summer job and save money to use during the semester may help him avoid applying for and overusing a credit card. You may want to consider having one for your child with a low limit for emergencies but speak to him about the dangers a credit card can bring. Using cash is still the best way to go for a young adult away from home for the first time as it lowers the temptation to overspend.
Throughout each of these transitions, remember to praise your child for all the good things he does and all the ways he makes you proud. Surely he won't get through middle school, high school, or college without a few missteps, but being there to support him will certainly guide him in the right direction.
Jennifer Cerbasi teaches at a public school for children on the autism spectrum in New Jersey. As a coordinator of Applied Behavioral Analysis programs in the home, she works with parents to create and implement behavioral plans for their children in an environment that fosters both academic and social growth. In addition to her work both in the classroom and at home, she is also a member of the National Association of Special Education Teachers and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.