• Middle School
On Becoming a Middle School Parent

by Beth Coyne, Assistant Head of School and Secondary School Counselor

Welcome to the joys of parenting a Middle School student. Whether this is your first, second or third child in Middle School, you are now parenting an adolescent. Fasten your seatbelt! You are specifically parenting the early adolescent at a time when the young adolescent body undergoes more developmental change than at any other time except from birth to two years old. Early adolescence, with the onset or near onset of puberty, is a time of tremendous growth and change in our children. This growth has a profound impact on their growing bodies and developing brains, specifically the limbic system (emotional brain) and the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain in control of their executive functions - impulses and planning). The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development describe it this way, “Young teens' brains have their accelerators pressed all the way to the floor, while their brakes have yet to be installed.”

On the same site (ASCD), I was reminded that many cultures used to send their pubescent boys and girls off to experience some sort of rite of passage to help manage the intense changes and turn these boys and girls into mature men and women. “Boys were placed in a pit and starved and girls were left secluded in huts.” While educational experiences at this age have evolved, what we know is that adolescents create their own rites of passage - some maddening to adults (talking back, ignoring adults, balking at the dress code) and some dangerous for their growing bodies (experimenting with drugs, alcohol, sex).  

The Country School, being a smaller community of families who share some common beliefs about what we want for our children by selecting private education for these developmental years, may be somewhat protected from the exposure to the dangerous rites of passage, but we must not move blindly through these years and, in fact, we must be active and vocal to help our children make the best decisions they can with prefrontal cortexes that are not fully developed. 

The Stanley King Counseling Institute, a resource for Independent Schools for advisor training, shares on their website, “Navigating one’s way through adolescence has never been easy, and never harder than it is today. As concerns grow about the emotional and physical well-being of adolescents, study after study show the central importance of a relationship with a caring adult to a younger person’s development. Independent schools, like The Country School, with smaller classes and involved faculty, offer these relationships. Our advisor program is designed with this in mind. Your child will have an advisor who will be one of many caring adults your child will interact with at The Country School. 

Our children thrive at school when the support from home and from school are a strong partnership and developmentally-appropriate.  Psychologist Robert Evans writes, “Prepare your child for the path, not the path for your child.” We want our children to become happy and healthy adults. This requires a gradual and changing relationship between parent and child where the parent will do more modeling, to the parent doing more coaching, to the parent as sounding board and child exhibits increasing independence. We want to resist the role of parent as doer or rescuer as those roles can negatively impact a child’s development toward independence and self reliance. We look forward to partnering with you during these wonderful years of growth.