Remember being in 6th grade? For me, 6th grade brings back a flood of memories… not all of them are pleasant. Let’s take a look at this very confusing and challenging grade.
A 6th grader’s cup runneths over with contradictions. One minute they are asking for attention, the next- they are pushing you away. They tend to be a little less immersed in school, but dependent on approval from their classmates. Rebellious one second, needing comfort the next (although not asking for it.) What’s a parent to do?
Schoolfamily.com takes a look at the psyche of the average 6th grader, and asks Al Summers, Director of the Middle School Association, what’s going on with these young adolescents?
“It’s not that they want to rebel; it’s part of the change,” says Summers. “Parents tend to look at that, as ‘My kid doesn’t need me as much.’” In reality, your child needs you more than ever: “This is a development stage where the parent has to be involved with all aspects of the child’s life.”
“The research in this case is very, very clear, “ Summers says. “For young adolescents, it’s the biggest brain development stage next to birth-to-3. It’s also when hormones kick in, and kids don’t understand what’s going on.”
Hormones can make anyone discombobulated. I know that for a fact.
Imagine back to when you were just beginning to feel “the change” between childhood and teenager. Most likely there was anger for no reason, tears for no reason, arguing with and making up with friends, and a feeling of growing distance between you and your parents. That’s pretty much a 6th grader.
Early adolescents begins around 10 years old and last till a child is about 15. Social development, for girls, can be anywhere from obsessing over the latest singing sensation and sexy new clothes, to playing with dolls. If she is still playing with dolls and doing silly things, count your blessings.
6th graders are often similar to an emotional roller coaster ride, lots of ups and downs and sideways turns. When they cry, they can’t explain why they are upset. The smallest wayward glance can prompt your child to get up from the table and race to his or her room.
Boys may become a whirling dervish of activity. Sports can become more important. They too are dealing with growth spurts and puberty. One interesting change that studies have shown is that boys are reading more thanks to the Harry Potter book series. So that’s a very good thing.
He may start talking about girls but have no interest in them at all. His hormones haven’t fully kicked in yet, so all this new talk of girls is strictly to impress his friends. In fact, he may be feeling a bit nervous because he doesn’t really see what all of the excitement is about.
As a parent of a 6th grader, expect to become un-cool.
And then there’s the transition from elementary to middle school. They were the oldest in elementary school, now they’re the youngest in middle school. That’s a big change. Going to the teacher / parent conference may have been a joy in the earlier grades, but now it may be somewhat unpleasant. Discipline problems as well as mood swings may make young Johnny or Joanie a little more tense, and a lot less focused.
“This is the age when they are beginning to look outside the family for meaning in life,” Summers says. “They are constantly doing a mental inventory of where they fit in.”
Summers recommends that parents consider compromising when it comes to school involvement. If your child is mortified at the prospect of you chaperoning a dance or field trip, offer to do something more discreet, such as assisting in the teacher workroom or signing up for a fundraising committee. Or instead of chaperoning every field trip, you might agree to attend just one per semester. The key is not to feel hurt or turn your child’s normal adolescent development into a bigger drama than it is. There’s plenty of drama to go around already.
Because your child may be less engaged in school, you’ll need to take charge. Start with a different approach, if the old ways aren’t working. Learning should be stimulating, so reach out to them in ways that they find interesting. Rent movies that are tailored to your child’s interests. TV now has the History channel, The Science channel, Discovery etc. Discuss current events, and look up more in-depth explanations on the web together. Encourage your child to join school and community groups, such as a team sport, or to take advantage of volunteer opportunities.
Subjects like Math & Science can be a little intimidating for parents, so be careful not to pass on a negative attitude to your child. Parents will sometimes enroll their child in the easier course rather than the more challenging one because of their own fears, says Hank Kepner, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. “When the parent says ‘I was never good at math,’ the kid gets the message that he won’t be, either,” Kepner says. Instead, he advises, offer to sit down with your child and tackle a tough math problem together.
One of the most uncomfortable and shifting-around-in-your-chair topics a parent should discuss with their pre-teen is sex. Actually, starting earlier than the pre-teen years is better… but if you haven’t already started this conversation, do it NOW!
Pre-teens are exposed to a lot of sexual imagery – maybe not in your home, but definitely everywhere else. Not only is it important for them to get their sex-ed information from you, but discuss health risks as well. As some 6th graders go, sex is gross, embarrassing, stupid, funny, or all of the above. For the majority of 11-12-year-olds, these more advanced sexual issues can still be addressed at a fairly non-threatening, non-emotional level, since most young people this age are not yet personally involved. But also understand that many 6th graders know of someone—a friend or classmate—who is actually experimenting with sexual activity.
While your 6th grader may become a little more difficult to get through to, keep trying and keep a positive attitude. It’s all part of growing up. Remember your 6th grade? Enough said.