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Facing the Challenges of Junior High

How To Help Your Preteen Face the Challenges of Junior High

On a recent Wednesday afternoon I asked my seventh-grader, "How was school today?" Her response consisted of a 10-minute synopsis of lunchtime antics, hallway romances and jokes that only a 12-year-old would appreciate. My suspicion that she was having too much fun at school was confirmed later that evening when I received a progress report conveniently left for me on my pillow at bedtime.

My former A/B student had an unsatisfactory grade point average in three of her six classes. I immediately picked up the phone to arrange three parent/teacher/student conferences to identify the problem. The first teacher I contacted assured me that my daughter's performance had nothing to do with her learning ability. The problem was that my daughter was now in junior high.

Junior high, or what is called "middle school" in some areas, is a world much different than the structured, hand-holding atmosphere of elementary school. Suddenly, preteens are put into a situation where social skills go beyond taking turns at the tether ball pole. School becomes a fashion show, a popularity contest and a place where adolescents learn the true meaning of a "bad hair day."

Transitioning from elementary school to junior high can be an exciting yet very difficult time for a child, says Lisa Dunning, MFT, a marriage and family therapist who teaches parenting classes in Hermosa Beach, Calif. "Many children have been in their elementary schools for at least five to six years and feel safe and secure. Then, as soon as they feel they are 'rulers' of their school, they move into a bigger school where they are back to being the youngest."

Suddenly, preteens are faced with more peer pressure and challenging schoolwork as well as a desire to fit in. It is best if parents are aware of what is happening with their child during this transition period, and Dunning recommends that parents get involved with their children's education.

Anna Schulz of Long Beach, Calif., noticed an increase in her daughter's school reports, projects and long-term assignments once she entered junior high. "My daughter competes heavily in gymnastics and works out in the gym five days a week, so time is very crucial for her when trying to get through homework," Schulz says. She made arrangements for her daughter to receive her homework assignments for the next week on the Friday prior, which enables the gymnast to do some of her assignments over the weekend, thus decreasing her frustration.

Talking and listening to your children on a daily basis is important, and Dunning suggests parents keep the lines of communication open.

"It is also necessary for a parent to observe their children's behavior, mannerisms, eating habits and sleeping habits to make sure their children are adjusting well," Dunning says.

"I found that my daughter needed more rest and to spend more time reading fun-for-her books," Schulz says. "She also started to get headaches that she never had before, which I now see are hormonal. I give her neck massages because that seems to really give her relief."

Schulz learned not to ask too many questions about the goings on at school, because that seemed to touch a nerve, so she just lets her daughter "vent out" whenever she needs to.

Yet some issues require compromises.

Some students at her daughter's school have beepers and cell phones, but Schulz feels only people in business should have these and therefore will not purchase them for her daughter. "I tried to get used to the fact that kids today actually have these things, but I couldn't," she says.

She did, however, purchase a cordless telephone for her home so that her daughter could talk to friends in the privacy of her room. Another high-tech perk for her daughter was her own e-mail account. "The trade off was no beeper and no cell phone," Schulz says.

As long as parents stay involved with their children, they can help make the transition from elementary school to junior high an exciting and rewarding time. By taking into consideration what my daughter was experiencing during her first few weeks as an elementary school graduate, I helped her get her grades back up where they should be, while mentally counting the days until high school graduation in 2005.

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