A Parents' Guide to the Middle School Years

A Parents' Guide to the Middle School Years

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by Joe Bruzzese

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Oh my god, parents are watching, got to go.

Today’s text-messaging middle schoolers may seem like a different species from how parents remember themselves as sixth, seventh, and eighth graders. Children are often forced to confront serious issues like drugs, violence, sexuality, and technology at an age that would have been


Oh my god, parents are watching, got to go.

Today’s text-messaging middle schoolers may seem like a different species from how parents remember themselves as sixth, seventh, and eighth graders. Children are often forced to confront serious issues like drugs, violence, sexuality, and technology at an age that would have been unthinkable even a decade ago. So it’s natural for parents to worry about these crucial years. Still, educator Joe Bruzzese believes that this time can be full of positive transformation as your child gains independence and your parental role shifts from omnipresent manager to supportive coach. Timely topics include cyberbullying, depression, and choosing realistic and rewarding extracurricular activities.

The middle school years can and should be a time of exciting change and opportunity; A Parents’ Guide to the Middle School Years presents what you need to know to survive and thrive as a family.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Bruzzese understands kids and communicates well through this concise guide. ...This book is not stuffed with case studies, chatty stories, or horrific went-wrongs; instead, it’s a to-the-point guide for parents and should be well used.”
—Library Journal

“Selective memory probably vaporized the details of your sixth to eighth grade experience. To parent effectively through these years you need to understand twenty-first century middle school reality—the academic challenges, packed schedules, social stressors, and nonstop intrusion of digital media. You’ll also need the terrific twenty-first century coaching techniques provided in this book.”
—Annie Fox, author of Too Stressed to Think? and the Middle School Confidential™ series

“Bruzzese’s perspective into the teen years is dead-on! He covers all of the hard-hitting topics and brings up many new issues that parents need to be aware of. Bruzzese gives advice not only to help ease the transition into middle school, but also to help families tackle the teen years with great success—awesome!”
—Vanessa Van Petten, teen author of You’re Grounded! and creator of OnTeensToday.com

Library Journal

This short, easy-to-read guide for parents about middle-school kids deals with making friends, being online, doing well in school, balancing school with outside activities, understanding teachers, and thriving as a family-all hot-button topics that can quickly go awry and make the middle-school years difficult for children and parents. Bruzzese (education, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara) understands kids and communicates well through this concise guide. He argues that the family computer should be in a central, visible spot, not in middle schoolers' bedrooms; time online must be limited. In addition, parents need to remember that their kids need them (though they're rarely asked for advice) and that family activities-even though they're often met with "Do I have to?"-are vital. This book is not stuffed with case studies, chatty stories, or horrific went-wrongs; instead, t's a to-the-point guide for parents and should be well used.
—Linda Beck

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Read an Excerpt


Of the eight million children attending middle schools this coming year, the experience of only one of them—your own child—will truly change your life. Guiding your child’s transition into adolescence takes time, patience, and a significant step forward in personal parenting knowledge. Mention the term middle school among a group of high school parents and you can see the sly smile sweep across their faces, a subtle sign that seems to suggest their happiness at having made it through those days. “What is it that they know?” you wonder.

The road through the middle school years can be smooth at times. Your child’s grin as she talks about her wonderful new friends will send your spirits flying high. Positive progress reports can bolster your belief that your child will thrive. Indeed, the rise of positive emotions from exciting new changes can keep you and your child sailing across a sea of tranquility. But beware: the journey through middle school can also take you through turbulent waters.

How will you handle the inevitable adolescent crisis that leaves your child feeling frustrated, sad, or depressed? Changing your perception of what constitutes a crisis is one of the many adjustments required for understanding your child’s frequent emotional shifts. A crisis could mean something as simple as a missing shoe or as serious as chronic bullying and drug abuse. Balancing a child’s growing need for independence with genuine concern for his physical or emotional safety can become a never-ending exercise in patience for the parent who is accustomed to routinely “saving the day.” True, at times you will be called on to advocate for your child when her physical or emotional safety is at risk. But although bullying and drug abuse call for strong parent support and presence, the occasional spat between friends or a challenging homework assignment rarely do. Instead, you should view many of these situations as valuable opportunities for your child to figure things out on his own—and grow in the process. You will likely find this oscillation between being an adamant advocate and a silent partner is an acquired skill that requires new levels of parenting savvy and self-confidence.

The emotional instability that often characterizes a middle schooler’s move into adolescence can be exaggerated by the stress of a full academic load and a long list of extracurricular responsibilities. Although you may instinctively want to bring quick resolution to a series of scheduling snafus, I encourage you to stand down and hand over the reins of responsibility to your child for the management of her everyday schedules and routines. Shifting your parenting role from ever-present manager to supportive coach allows your child to gradually accept greater responsibility while benefiting from your continued guidance.

Great coaches inspire, teach, and celebrate achievement. Yet coaching your child through the middle school years will likely be a dramatic change from your earlier role as a teacher and manager in which you assumed responsibility for all of the decisions that impacted your child’s day. Remember, middle school marks the beginning of the transition into adolescence and the development of increased independence. As a coach, you will still provide ample opportunities for your child to practice the skills you have taught him. But unlike in your previous roles as teacher and manager, you won’t be called on to monitor your child’s moment to moment progress. This news may come as a welcome relief to those parents who are ready to move forward toward a new and equally fulfilling relationship with their child. However, I also anticipate that a fair number of parents will struggle and resist letting go of their previous role and adopting what appears to be the more relaxed role of coach. If you are among them, I urge you in particular to take advantage of the insights, stories, and, in some places, step-by-step strategies I’ll share that can ease your transition into the new and engaging role of coach.

Coaches need support too. Success is rarely achieved without encouragement and commitment from a team of valued individuals. You and your family may need to rely on the guidance and support of close friends to pull you through some of middle school’s tougher moments. A team of people who care deeply about your child’s success is a priceless resource to acquire. Teachers, coaches, mentors, and extended family members form a supportive team that will guide both you and your child through the gauntlet of challenges that lies ahead. If your recent attempts at sharing worldly wisdom with your child have already begun to go unheard, then the team-building ideas presented in the coming chapters may be of special interest to you. Taking on the responsibility for answering all your child’s questions and providing solutions to all of life’s challenges is an impossible task for parents alone to accomplish. You will strengthen your position as a parent by relying on a team of trusted individuals who know and support your child. Parenting today’s middle schooler has truly become a team sport, filled with enough action to keep everyone engaged.

The need to rely on an extended leadership team throughout middle school is in keeping with the significant change in the traditional definition of family. Today, single-parent homes and families with dual wage earners nearly outnumber the traditional mom-stays-home-and-dad-goes-to-work households that many of the parents reading this book (and even more of their parents) knew as children. Families today can rarely find time to sit down and share a conversation, let alone a meal. The range of meetings, practices, and work-related commitments leaves many families hard-pressed to share one meal a week together. It may seem extreme to actually schedule a time to talk, but with the busy schedules many families navigate each week, time well spent together can be fleeting unless it is planned and thus becomes firmly rooted as a family priority.

I’ve written this book to inspire hope in the relationship parents and children share as they move through the middle school years. As I’ll describe next, three themes run through the chapters: building confidence, maintaining a connection, and overcoming challenges. Families who thrive during the middle school years actively pursue each of these themes. Although the journey through middle school will not be free of frustration for any family, with an understanding of the three themes, your family is certain to grow in a positive way.

The following summaries offer a glimpse of the highlights from each chapter.

Chapter 1: In a sea of new faces, middle schoolers face the challenge of creating new friendships while maintaining friendships from elementary school. Chapter 1 looks at the issues surrounding the day-to-day life of peer relationships, including how to approach new people, handle bullies and cliques, and keep in touch with buddies from before. Jockeying for a spot in the collage of social groups can leave some kids feeling like they’re standing on the outside looking in while their peers climb the social ladder. Although friends won’t help your child over every bump in the road, a positive peer group certainly adds a boost of confidence for conquering the emotional peaks and valleys of the middle school years.

Chapter 2: Establishing a strong team of teachers (that may also include coaches, counselors, and other mentors) sets the stage for a rewarding academic experience. Chapter 2 provides a guide to building a solid team, helping parents learn the best times and ways to approach teachers and how to decipher teacher expectations. You will gain four tips for productive parent-teacher relationships and identify four steps to getting a smooth start to the new school year.

Chapter 3: Although some children benefit from the rigor of advanced or honors classes, the vast majority of kids fail to thrive if the level of challenge overwhelms their current academic ability. It can be hard to find the ideal setting that provides just the right amount of challenge. What’s the answer? Chapter 3 presents a plan for how kids can thrive in the face of challenge, without becoming overwhelmed—starting by studying smarter, not harder. From five steps to buying the right supplies, to four ways for finishing homework in half the time, this chapter will guide you in the fine art of finding the right balance in your child’s academic undertakings.

Chapter 4: Your child’s extracurricular commitments can lead to late nights and mounting anxiety about how to excel academically while managing it all. Chapter 4 shows you how to help your child bring balance and organization to her extracurricular life. Learning how to guide your child toward a challenging, yet realistic set of goals remains one of parenting’s most daunting tasks. With the plethora of opportunities available both before and after the school day, children and parents can quickly become sucked into an overloaded schedule. You can ensure a smooth start to the school year by identifying and committing to a few interests outside of the school day—settings in which kids can experience success in having met their academic responsibilities while simultaneously engaging in activities they truly enjoy. You and your child shouldn’t require advanced time management skills to find time for both. With a proactive attitude—based on the creation of a vision for the coming year—your child will be well on the way to enjoying the best that both environments have to offer.

Chapter 5: Today’s kids confront a host of new challenges that most parents have little experience with. As the information age evolves at an ever-faster pace, parents struggle to stay in the know about technology’s latest trends. The average middle school parent needs terms like social networking and cyberbullying explained. In contrast, most of today’s U.S. middle schoolers emerged from the womb into a wired world. Like the telephone, the Internet has become a mainstream form of communication for today’s youth. Chapter 5 lays out a safe path through the Internet by identifying common myths about social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook, while providing tips for helping kids steer clear of trouble—like the hazards of sharing personal information with strangers and viewing inappropriate material.

Chapter 6: Finding the time to actively engage in family events keeps kids and parents moving forward in a positive direction. It will take a commitment from everyone in the home to create a vision for your family’s continued growth. In the absence of a vision, families may become distant, more like individuals moving in separate directions than a tight-knit group held together by a common set of goals and interests. Each of the preceding chapters alludes to the importance of thinking beyond the moment; the final chapter focuses on uniting the members of your family through a commitment to ongoing communication in the coming years.

Building confidence, maintaining a connection, and overcoming challenge form a complete plan of action for thriving during the middle school years. Having worked with thousands of families as both a teacher and coach, I see each of these themes as critical to whether a family holds together or parents and kids move in separate directions. Your child’s task—meeting the challenge of a seven-period schedule while trying to combat a case of unrelenting pimples—may seem small in scale compared to the challenges we face as parents. However, from your child’s perspective, the onset of puberty and a bottomless pile of homework can quickly become cause for alarm and periods of self-doubt, followed by a dip in self-esteem. Developing a connection with the other adults who now will affect your child’s life requires faith and confidence in your ability to move from your former role of teacher and manager to the role of supportive coach. Yet this journey—stepping back while allowing your child to step up to the challenge of becoming an independent person—is one that all parents hope to take. My hope is that you look back on the middle school years and smile, confident in the knowledge that your child has learned how to thrive in the face of challenge.

Meet the Author

JOE BRUZZESE, MA, is a professor in the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He has taught at the elementary and middle school levels and coached club soccer for twenty years. He lives with his family in Santa Barbara, California.


Who is your hero?
I have two. My daughter Jordyn and my son Tristan. They inspire my days (and nights). I’m in awe of the simplicity they bring to the world and the courage they summon in spite of challenges they face. I couldn’t imagine my life without them.

Have any good pet stories?
Our dog Chewy (named because of his likeness to the Star Wars character Chewbacca) took his name in the literal sense and devoured clothes, shoes and anything else left on the floor during the first two years.

What was the hardest thing about writing a book?

The first word and the last word. Taking the first step requires intention, energy and a commitment to steps two, three and four. Believing in your ability to create something of meaning is a formidable obstacle to overcome. Equally foreboding was the last word. How does it end? What’s the right way to say goodbye? I never have been good at saying goodbye.

What was your first job?
Sanitation Engineer. After a short 8-week stint during a high school summer I ruled out manual labor from the list of viable career options. This was back in the day when one man drove the truck and the other ran from house to house hauling the week’s worth of garbage back to the truck. No electronic arm. Not a week goes by when I’m not out meeting our local engineers with something cold to drink. They earned my respect.

What book do you re-read every few years?
Change the Way You See Everything holds the premier position in my bookshelf. Inevitably I give my copy away or gift one to a friend. The message inspires my life and the choices that guide my work. Thank you to good friend and colleague, Jason Womack. My life was forever changed the day he shared this book with me.

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Parents' Guide to the Middle School Years 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really want to read this book. Its sounds good. Sorry for parents who are rading this that want to no information about this book and i just put my 2 cents in.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not supposed to say oh om god it is oh my goodness or oh my gosh