My View: Parenting the secondary student: We’re not in elementary school anymore
September 27th, 2012
04:10 AM ET

My View: Parenting the secondary student: We’re not in elementary school anymore

Courtesy Kent Murray PhotographyBy Cindi Rigsbee, Special to CNN

Editor’s Note: Cindi Rigsbee is the 2009 North Carolina Teacher of the Year and a National Teacher of the Year Finalist. A National Board Certified Teacher, Cindi is the author of Finding Mrs. Warnecke: The Difference Teachers Make. She is also a member of the Center for Teaching Quality’s Teacher Leaders Network.  Her website is cindirigsbee.com.

Recently I’ve had the honor of watching children take a monumental step in their lives; I’ve watched them begin middle school. Believe me, there is nothing like the face of a sixth-grader, fresh from being the oldest and tallest at the elementary school, as they walk into an enormous middle school and try to master a schedule that moves them from class to class and struggle with a combination lock that fights back. Just today I recognized panic on a face, and after some investigation I understood: the lunchbox was missing!

But not to worry. These guys will be fine. In no time, they’ll be attending their first school dance with their friends, cheering on the upper classmen at sporting events, and proudly playing their shiny new band instruments at a concert. Educators in the building will support them and nurture them, and soon they’ll be independent and self-sufficient.

Sometimes the real concern is not about what happens inside the middle or high school. The real concern is centered on the wonderful people who send their kids to the bus stop or drop them off at school and then leave to go about their jobs and daily routines. On many days they count down the hours waiting anxiously to ask, “How was your day? What did you learn? Have you made any friends?”

The ones who can be the most anxious? The parents.

As an educator who hangs out in a middle school hallway on a daily basis, and as a parent who hasn’t forgotten my children’s middle school and high school years, I believe there are some strategies that may soothe your anxiety somewhat. Here’s how to make the transition easier … for you and for your child.

Communicate

Talking to a child between the ages of 11 and 18 is difficult if you actually expect an answer. How many times did I, as a parent, ask, “What did you learn today?” only to hear, “Nothing.” Nothing! Apparently there was NO learning for 180 days in the school! Now I know the way to handle the vague mumblings from our middle school kids: Make sure your questions are specific.

Instead of “What did you learn today?” try “What did Mrs. Watson cover in social studies during Core 3?” Once they are able to share, “We identified continents,” the door is open to delve into the actual learning experience.

Another idea is to make a game out of it. 3-2-1 works well at times like this: “OK, tell me three things your teachers covered today, tell me two things you already knew about the lesson when you got there, and tell me one thing you still have a question about.” Make it a competition between siblings if necessary, but any way you can manage to get pre-teens and teenagers to open up, the better.

In addition, watch for signs of stress that can be brought on by bullies, conflicts with a teacher, and frustration with school work. Asking the right questions during times like these can prevent problems from becoming more serious later. I once had to intervene when my sixth-grade son was being stuffed into a locker, but it was only after careful prodding that I was able to put the pieces of that story together!

Live a parallel life

It is very important for parents to be involved in the school, but it’s at the middle and high school levels that students begin to long for their independence. I recommend that parents stay active in a school without actually hovering over their own kids. For example, I worked in the concession stand during football games at my children’s high school. I was THERE, right where they were, but I was busy, not to mention removed from the spectators, and therefore didn’t “suffocate” them. I was there to pay for a slice of pizza for them but not there to provide a running commentary on their classmates’ behavior, choice of hair style, or selection of significant other. I was nearby, not on top of them. Is there ever a time to hover? Absolutely. When your child is making inappropriate (or dangerous) choices, or when any other serious problem arises, throw the whole “parallel” idea out the window. But under normal circumstances, making yourself a non-intrusive part of their world keeps you connected but not alienated.

For example, be sure to show up on standardized testing day, to help out in another class. Chaperone a field trip and ask to guide a group that doesn’t include your child but instead includes his/her classmates. Show up at school landscaping day on a Saturday while your teen is still asleep. All of these practices show you care about your child’s education, but you understand independence is an important rite of passage at this age.

Provide an atmosphere conducive to organization

Children who move from one elementary classroom to six middle and high school teachers sometimes struggle with organization. You can assist by ensuring there is a system in place that allows kids to get homework done, papers signed, and information shared. First of all, a schedule is so important! Even in these days of ball practices and dance rehearsals, it’s easy enough to provide a quiet place for homework to be completed as soon as everyone arrives home. And making sure the backpack is zipped and ready by the door, clothes are laid out, and lunches are packed can make those chaotic mornings a little less hectic.

Resist the urge, though, to clean out the Black Hole of wadded-up papers that lives in the backpack. I never mastered this strategy myself and was blamed for invasion of privacy on more than one occasion. But assisting a child through a backpack, and even locker, cleanout can produce a mountain of assignments that haven’t been submitted!

In short, be involved in your pre-teen or teenager’s life as much as you can without them feeling the need to push you away. Finding that balance will make the transition from elementary to secondary school easier for parents, students, and teachers.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Cindi Rigsbee.

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Filed under: High school • Middle school • Voices
soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. Tween Publishing

    All students should be receiving formal organizational skills instruction in grades 6 or 7, and comprehensive study skills instruction in grades 7 and 8. These are academic skills which must be taught. We can't "hope" they pick up these skills someplace, or expect parents to teach them. They are essential skills for achievement, and high school and college readiness.

    October 1, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
  2. Wolfgang Halbig

    BILL HAS DONE IT AGAIN.

    'They're standing on the corner and they can't speak English.

    I can't even talk the way these people talk:

    Why you ain't,
    Where you is,
    What he drive,
    Where he stay,
    Where he work,
    Who you be...

    And I blamed the kid until I heard the mother talk.

    And then I heard the father talk.

    Everybody knows it's important to speak English except these knuckleheads. You can't be a doctor with that kind of crap coming out of your mouth
    In fact you will never get any kind of job making a decent living.

    People marched and were hit in the face with rocks to get an Education, and now we've got these knuckleheads walking around.

    The lower economic people are not holding up their end in this deal.

    These people are not parenting. They are buying things for kids.

    $500 sneakers for what?

    And they won't spend $200 for Hooked on Phonics.

    I am talking about these people who cry when their son is standing there in an orange suit.

    Where were you when he was 2?

    Where were you when he was 12?

    Where were you when he was 18 and how come you didn't know that he had a pistol?

    And where is the father? Or who is his father?

    People putting their clothes on backward:
    Isn't that a sign of something gone wrong?

    People with their hats on backward, pants down around the crack, isn't that a sign of something?

    Isn't it a sign of something when she has her dress all the way up and got all type of needles [piercing] going through her body?

    What part of Africa did this come from??

    We are not Africans. Those people are not Africans; they don't know a thing about Africa .....

    I say this all of the time. It would be like white people saying they are European-American. That is totally stupid.

    I was born here, and so were my parents and grand parents and, very likely my great grandparents. I don't have any connection to Africa, no more than white Americans have to Germany , Scotland , England , Ireland , or the Netherlands . The same applies to 99 percent of all the black Americans as regards to Africa . So stop, already! ! !

    With names like Shaniqua, Taliqua,... Mohammed, and all of that crap........
    And all of them are in jail.

    Brown or black versus the Board of Education is no longer the white person's problem.

    We have got to take the neighborhood back.

    People used to be ashamed. Today a woman has eight children with eight different 'husbands' - or men or whatever you call them now.

    We have millionaire football players who cannot read.

    We have million-dollar basketball players who can't write two paragraphs. We, as black folks have to do a better job.

    Someone working at Wal-Mart with seven kids, you are hurting us.

    We have to start holding each other to a higher standard..

    We cannot blame the white people any longer.'
    Dr.. William Henry 'Bill' Cosby, Jr., Ed..D.

    WELL SAID, BILL
    It's NOT about color...

    It's about behavior!!!

    October 1, 2012 at 7:39 am |
  3. judeamorris

    As a retired educator I give this article a thumbs up on three counts: 1). right-on with communicating with your kids, with really getting to know what they learn. In my own home we did this this at family dinners, 2). providing your child with some organizational structure - I spent far too much time in the classroom every year teaching kids how to keep an organized notebook and then checking those notebooks every week until the kids got into the habit. If that sort of thing had happened at home, there would have been lots more time in the classroom for subject matter. I would also add helping them study effectively for tests instead of sending them off to their room to (supposedly) get the job done, and 3). get involved in the school, but not with the child - volunteer, but in ways that allow your child to continue learning independence. Secondary level kids don't want mom and dad hanging around, but they don't want to feel abandoned to fortune, either. Good article. I hope parents take the advice.

    September 30, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
  4. old greywolf

    GETTING BACK TO THE TOPIC SHEEPLE, IT IS MY FEELING THAT WE TREAT AND TEACH OUR CHILDREN AS THOUGH THEY ARE EMPTY VESSALS WE MUST FILL UP. I COINED AN OPENING..." WHO MANGLED YOUR LIBRARY CARD TODAY?...NOTHING?...WELL IF YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT I'M HERE." THEN I'D TURN AWAY. 9 TIMES OUT OF TEN THEY WOULD START TALKING. I SHARED WITH THEM SOME OF MY SOCIAL/WORK PROBLEMS AND ASKED FOR THEIR OPINIONS AND ADVISE. COMMINICATION IS A 2 WAY STREET. I ALWAYS SIGNED UP FOR SPECIAL ED TRIPS...MY OPENING LINES TO THE KIDS..." PLEASE WATCH OVER ME I GET LOST ALL THE TIME AND I'D FEEL SO STUPID IF I GOT LOST.!" THEY STUCK TO ME LIKE GLUE. I CALLED MY LOVEABLE DIRT BAGS 'LADIES' AND 'GENTLEMEN' SOME HOW IT SEEMED TO CHANGE THE ATHMOSPHERE. AFTERALL WE ARE ALL STUMBLING ALONG THRU LIFE. YOUR HAPPY CONTRANIAN.

    September 28, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
    • Oakspar

      Please, tell us you filled those precious vessels with the abilitiy to press the Caps Lock key a second time to turn it off.

      October 1, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
  5. ROMNEY2012

    If parents want to get involved with schools, have them volunteer and then fire the worthless trash union teachers that don't do squat except get fatter and whine about not getting paid enough for playing with glue and crayons all day.

    September 28, 2012 at 9:44 am |
    • Good idea!

      Cutting teacher pay, calling them fat and lazy, implying they don't add any value, and firing them willy-nilly is sure to attract the best possible candidates to the job!

      WHY AREN'T YOU RUNNING THE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION?!? You have a PERFECT understanding of how to attract highly-qualified, intelligent, motivated people to a profession and ensure they are retained!

      Oh, wait... I mean the opposite of that...

      September 28, 2012 at 10:01 am |
      • Bonnie K.

        XACTLY! If u want good people, give them some R E S P E CT!

        September 28, 2012 at 10:20 am |
    • kayla

      if you think that i dont think you should be president. if your not the Romney i think you are wow. and WOW if you are

      September 28, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
    • southpaw

      Let me know when you master endothermic and exothermic reactions, open and closed loop systems, DNA, RNA, the law of universal gravitation, and calculus based physics. Then after that is accomplishd learn the correct pedagogy (that is the theory of teaching styles) needed to make 28 different minds understand those concepts. In the meantime, I'll just sit here with my crayons, getting fat, and making Obama signs for my front yard, eagerly awaiting your hilarious resentment and anger when Mittens doesn't bring home a victory for you.

      September 29, 2012 at 10:52 am |
    • allenwoll

      Ro-Money - You sound like one of the people who should have been cut out of the educational system during the third grade and been permanently sent to the fields ! !

      September 30, 2012 at 10:56 pm |
  6. maggie

    We are trying to find new ways to reward mediocrity and prop up motherhood as if it is some kind of "hero" category task ?????

    THE TRUTH HURTS: we "REASON" with kids today...we no longer discipline anyone. Now we call them "buddy" or some nice nice name rather than their actual first name. Now we cannot even command a classroom over misfits, thugs, and punks...because THEY have rights and we can't touch them anymore. We have become a people of SPINELESS and COWARDLY sheep with no PRINCIPLES anymore. All in the name of pandering and the Liberal mantra narrative of "EVERYONE HAS RIGHTS AND NO ONE HAS RESPONSIBILITIES" The only people to blame for our degredation of conduct, performance, health, and leadership skills...IS US. We allowed this to happen. The point the finger blame game is old. Either discipline, stand your ground, draw the line in the sand, accept the fact that you are HIRED to lead...not be their FRIEND....or stop complaining. Choose.

    September 28, 2012 at 7:06 am |
    • YEAH!

      We're also completely failing to teach people to make Internet comments that are somehow related to the article they are commenting on!

      September 28, 2012 at 9:22 am |
    • Wait, what?

      What are you babbling about? You should read the article. I know it is really, really long (13 whole paragraphs!) and you have things you're just DYING to say even if they have nothing to do with it, so I'll sum it up: it's advice to parents on how to relate to their middle-school aged children and be involved in their education.
      Where did all the stuff you're blathering about come in?

      September 28, 2012 at 9:27 am |
  7. Mark

    Parenting is quite elementary in my humble opinion. Training you children to act in a responsible manner occurs when the childs creators (mom/dad) made that committment at conception. Beginning in the very tender years toddlers are told no or to be nice. Those building blocks continue at different degrees throughout childhood. Reading to your children, proper healthcare, environment, setting rules on activities/behavior all prepare a child for success or failure. Are children quite difficult throughout certain stages of development? of course but thats the joy of parenthood to enjoy the wonderful stages as well as enduring the difficult ones. The bottom line is the same fairness, consistency, tough love and a dose of reality at the right times makes children understand they cannot become a useless taker or criminal. Work hard, get a skill(s), be determined to be something in this life and all will be well. If parents were/are slugs, the kids probably will be too (Not only my opinion but a statistical fact). Parenting a successful child until adulthood is the most difficult and yet rewarding JOB any adult could ever imagine.

    September 27, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
  8. Ridzal

    Reblogged this on ADAM Association.

    September 27, 2012 at 5:40 am |