By Kelly White
It is the time of transition between childhood and pre-teen years.
Middle school is an educational stage providing education between primary school and secondary school, typically for children in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades.
“It’s difficult to be a kid today,” said Jill Dalton, of Palos Park and parent at Palos Community Consolidated School District 118. “There’s a lot of pressure coming to kids from a lot of different angles.”
However, it is not only a transition for students. It also affects parents and guardians, like Dalton, according to Michelle Icard, author of “Middle School Makeover: Improving the Way You and Your Child Experience the Middle School Years.”
“Lots of parents fear the changes middle school inevitably brings,” she said. “Not only that, but parents often put forward their own middle school baggage to their child’s transition.”
“I like to reframe how we, as adults, think about middle school,” said Icard, 45, of Charlotte, N.C. “I believe it has potential to be one of the most exciting and rewarding times in the lives of both parents and kids, but to reach this point, parents need to reframe how they think about this developmental stage.”
Icard spoke to parents and guardians at Dist. 118 about the middle school transition through a presentation called, “Making Sense of Middle School” Oct. 2 at Palos South Middle School, 13100 S. 82nd Ave., Palos Park.
This was Icard’s first time speaking at the school. She was contacted for the event by the school’s Parent Faculty Association (PFA), according to Palos South Middle School Principal, Stuart Wrzesinski.
“The PFA wanted to help bring a resource to parents to help them feel empowered and positive about this time in their child’s life,” Wrzesinski said.
“It is our hope that this talk helps parents to feel more aware of their child’s experience and how they can help them along the way,” said Palos Park resident Katie Gira, a parent an PFA member.
Staff members within the district also felt the presentation to be beneficial, including Jill Yerkes, social worker at Palos South Middle School.
“I think it’s important to provide parents with as much information as possible to help lessen the stress of the middle school years,” Yerkes said. “It’s an incredibly challenging time of a child’s life in all aspects, socially and academically.”
Icard, a 1986 middle school graduate of Buckingham Browne & Nichols School in Cambridge, Mass., said middle school is a crucial time of communication between parents and their children.
“One of the biggest obstacles to staying connected with kids through the middle school years is understanding how they like to communicate,” Icard said. “The world really starts to open up kids in middle school. They become exposed to so many new things and parents need to be there for them, but middle school is a real game changer in terms of parenting. Most parents feel that things are going along pretty well until middle school hits and then suddenly the bottom drops out.”
“Middle school can be a challenging time for both parents and students,” said Stephanie Hill, ELA teacher at Palos South Middle School. “Students have it tough because it is a time of great transition and change. There are literal and metaphorical growing pains.
“As a middle school student, life can be challenging,” she said. “They are the ones encountering struggles and attempting to overcome them, but being a parent is difficult, too. Parents watch, sometimes helplessly, wondering how they can help them. There are a million questions that parents reflect on as they try to decide what to do.”
Misinterpretation of emotions can be a primary factor in conflicts between students and their parents during the middle school years.
“Kids this age are often perceived as judgmental or exclusive, though often their behavior stems from nervousness,” Icard said.
She stressed the importance of parents being assistant managers, not micromanagers, during their children’s middle school years. This aids in preventing risky behavior, and students in turn will feel more comfortable opening up about their peer experiences.
Parents will also experience less conflict between them and their children through this process, Icard said.
“I think parents tend to underestimate the importance of the middle school social world in their kids’ lives,” Icard said. “I want them to have a good understanding of what really happens in middle school as well as the importance and impact of this in their child’s social and emotional development. If I can serve as a bridge between kids and parents during this time of life when communication tends to get rocky, then that makes me really happy.”
Icard, a graduate of Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, is a member of the TODAY Show parenting team and NBC’s Education Nation. She is also a contributor to the Washington Post OnParenting section and Your Teen Magazine. In addition, her work has been featured in the Chicago Tribune, The Christian Science Monitor, Redbook, Time, People Magazine, and A Mighty Girl.
She is the creator of Athena’s Path and Hero’s Pursuit, social leadership program for middle school students that is taught in summer camps and schools around the country.
“We want to support the transition from elementary school to middle school for our students and families,” Meagan Doornbos, Assistant Principal at Palos South Middle School, said. “What better way to do so than to invite in an expert.”