Uninvolved Student

Question: My 12 year old middle schooler has gone from a excellent student to a uninvolved student. Her teachers have stonewalled me about communicating, insisting it is totally up to her to let me know what and when things are due. I am a single parent who works more than full time and she is a latch key kid.
– Debbie

Answer: Rest assured, 6th Grade is typically a transitional year with many adjustments for parents and children. (I promise 7th Grade will get easier!) 12-year-old children are certainly ready for more responsibility but, at the same time, it is important for parents to remain involved and committed to instilling good work habits.

The teachers are right in the sense that you cannot “do it” for your daughter and also that nagging will be counterproductive. But you are completely justified to try to understand the changes that have taken place in your daughter’s study habits and to communicate to your daughter the importance of school, hard work and achievement. I do recommend requesting a conference with the teaching team to discuss the situation. Even adults in business settings need coaching on time management, prioritizing and quality control. Middle school is a wonderful setting to begin to teach those life skills.

Our role, as we prepare children for greater degrees of independence, is to build “scaffolding” that support their efforts and then gradually remove pieces of the support structure until they are capable of completing the tasks without it. Imagine your daughter is walking along a bridge over a deep precipice and it is your job to build the trellises that hold up the bridge. You are involved in putting the structure in place (with as much participation and agreement from your daughter as possible) but eventually the structure must stand without you.

What can a single, working parent really do?

First, discuss with your daughter the amount of work and time required to complete her assignments.

Together, arrive at mutually satisfying plan: when to do the assignments and any help she will need. Write these in a student “planner.”

Set up checkpoints, either formal or informal, whereby you (and she) can verify that she is “on schedule” and “on task.” Try to enlist the cooperation of the teachers in the process to initial assignment due dates.

Become a part of her school routine: sit with her at the table and do your own work as she does her schoolwork. Show genuine interest in her subjects and her school experiences.

Monitor the quality of her work: check her assignments using the standards her teachers are using and establish a “redo policy” or devise a “quality control checklist” for her to check her own work. Keep in mind at times of growing independence, parent involvement looks invisible but is still all knowing and all seeing!

I do not have enough information from your question about why your child’s school performance and possibly attitude has changed. But if you communicate your values not just in words but also in time and attention, and combine your expectations with rewards and recognition, you can successfully counteract negative peer and media influences. Make the most of the time you have together and your daughter will ultimately good decisions.

Good Luck,
Karen Deerwester, Ed.S.

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