Making good grades probably tops your list of goals for your middle school student, but making friends is also important. Middle school is a new chapter in your child’s life. She’s moving away from childhood and into the beginning of adolescence. Your middle schooler’s friends will help shape many of her values and actions–including what your daughter thinks about alcohol and whether she drinks before her 21st birthday.
As children approach adolescence, friends and “fitting in” often become very important. Young teens increasingly look to friends and the media for clues on how to behave, and many begin to question adults’ values and rules.1 Children want to be noticed and accepted by their fellow students.2 Peer acceptance often is one factor in your child’s choice about whether to use alcohol, tobacco, and drugs. If your child wants to be part of a group that steers clear of harmful substances, odds are she’ll choose to be drug free, too. But if your child wants to be part of a group that uses alcohol, tobacco, or drugs, she may try them in order to fit in with that group.
Your child is more likely to make wise choices when she feels good about herself, so help build your child build her self-esteem. When she succeeds or has made a great choice, tell her you’re proud of her. When she does not succeed, help her feel better and urge her to keep trying. Your middle school student is going through many changes and may feel like she isn’t “good enough” or doesn’t measure up. Building her self-esteem will help her feel more confident and will make it easier for her to form healthy friendships. Praise is Important to Raising a Confident Child explains ways parents can help build a child’s self-esteem.
You also can help your child by being a good listener and spending time with him. Talk with your child every day and listen to his concerns.5 Stay clued in about what’s going on in your child’s world. Give him your full attention when he talks, and really listen to what he has to say. Be a Better Listener has great tips for parents. Be open to exploring different activities with your child to find something that she enjoys. She might like programs at a local museum or art gallery, or perhaps she has other interests that can be expanded.
You cannot choose your child’s friends for him, but you can help him learn to choose friends wisely.3 You can give him tools to find friends who do not drink alcohol and who will have a positive impact on him.4 Some ways you can help your middle schooler to choose and make friends are:
- Discuss with your child the qualities in a friend that matter most, such as being trustworthy and kind, and making good choices when it comes to steering clear of risky behaviors.
- Help your child make plans with potential friends. Urge him to invite them over to study in the evening or watch a movie on the weekend. If a child needs a ride to your house or an activity, be willing to pick him up. Not only will your child begin to develop friendships, but you’ll be able to keep an eye on their activities and get to know his friends. Read When a Child Feels Left Out or Lonely for other ideas.
- Introduce your child to new groups of people who share her interests. After-school clubs, faith-based activities, and sports programs are good places for meeting new people. The more teens participate in school-based, community-based, church- or faith-based activities are less likely to use cigarettes, alcohol, or illicit drugs.7
- Don’t judge your child’s choice of friends without talking with them and finding out what they like to do—and whether it’s illegal, unsafe, or risky. Looks can be deceiving, so try not to judge your child’s friends based on how they dress.
- Get to know the friends’ parents. In this way, you can create a “network” of parents whom you trust to monitor your child when he is at his friends’ houses.
Warn your child about instant messaging (IM), text messaging, or e-mails. Whatever is sent electronically can be sent to other children, so they shouldn’t participate in bullying or gossip, or.send private or personal information. 6
Making friends in middle school is important to your child, so let her know it’s important to you, too. Giving your child your support will boost her confidence and help her develop positive friendships.