Dear Lenore: I dragged my seventh-grader back to school today. Is there anything I can do about his apathy toward school?
The middle school years are a mixed bag. Some kids flourish once they have the social opportunities middle school provides. But if they’re not interested in the opposite sex yet, feel physically awkward or moody, these can be challenging years. Despite having just three grades, middle schools house a wide range of maturity levels.
It’s possible your son would rather disappear than have a conversation with his parents about school or his feelings about his social life, but try to find a way to let him know whatever stage of development he is in is normal and there are plenty of kids out there just like him. In the early teens, few kids want to be perceived as “different.” Does he have friends? Encourage him to connect with kids with whom he shares interests. Would he invite a friend to go to a movie or miniature golf or skateboarding if a parent or older sibling drove?
If your son will talk to you about his classes, ask him which ones he likes and why. Then challenge him to research careers related to his interests and strengths. Few kids this age are thinking far into the future. If he especially enjoys physical education, perhaps he’d be interested in learning about becoming a physical therapist or a coach.
If he’s good at math and science, he could learn about engineering or different fields of science. If he likes a class because the teacher inspires him, maybe he could imagine himself as a teacher someday.
If he’s good at doing things with his hands, he could explore what it takes to be an auto mechanic or an electrician. Learning about the skills needed for a cool job may help him to be more interested in what is happening in the classroom.
If your son isn’t tuned in to anything school-related right now, help him to find some positive interests outside of school. If he’s involved in Scouting, martial arts classes or a church group, he’ll develop social connections as well as a sense of pride in his accomplishments. The positive values he will learn in these activities will reinforce your messages about the importance of making an effort in school.
If your son continues to struggle at middle school despite your efforts, talk to his counselor for other ideas. There may be some school activity or a volunteer job that would help him to connect.
And remember that these awkward years won’t last forever. Usually by the time they get to high school, youngsters are more comfortable in their skins, they know what they need to do to succeed with multiple classes and teachers throughout the day, and they have found a social group that’s a good fit.