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Teaching Safety to Middle Schoolers

When it comes to safety, the only bad conversation is the ones we do not have.

The middle school years bring more independence. During these years, your child will begin to assert more independence. Activities that were once primarily family oriented will now include more friends and their families. Through these changes, it is imperative that your child has an understanding of some general safety tips. As we explore some topics to discuss with your child, begin thinking about the best times to have these very important chats.

Internet Safety

The topic of Internet and phone safety is likely not a new one for your pre-teen. They have likely discussed the issue at school; nonetheless, covering this topic in your own way makes it much more personal. Start by talking about the accounts and websites your child is accessing. It is very important for your child to only have social media accounts that you are aware of and can monitor. Sharing passwords with you is an important step, so that you also have access to their information. Also, they should have specific guidelines about who they are and are not allowed to talk to online. Some of the most important rules include:

  1. Never share personal information (address, phone number, etc.)
  2. Never send pictures of yourself to people online without parental permission.
  3. Keep in mind that anything posted online can be seen by anyone, anywhere.
  4. Pictures and words sent into cyberspace have the potential to stay there and be shared indefinitely.

Drugs and Alcohol: What Does My Child Need to Know?

Sadly, it is not uncommon for preteens to know someone who is or has used drugs and alcohol. This could even be their peers. For this reason, this age is an excellent time to talk about expectations and values associated with drugs and alcohol. Having a firm foundation built before they may experience the pressure of trying drugs is critical. Consider the following points before beginning your conversation:

  1. Ask your child what they already know about drugs and alcohol as a starting point. This could be related to what they have seen in movies, tv shows, etc.
  2. What messages do you want to send about drugs and alcohol? Prescription drugs should be part of this conversation.
  3. Explain how alcohol consumption might look different for an adult than it does for a teen/preteen. Make sure your child knows what is and isn’t ok.
  4. Build in details about family history of abuse, expectations based on religious values, etc.
  5. Discuss peer pressure and how this should/ should not play into their decisions.

Discussing Abuse: What Should I Share?

Many parents discuss abuse with their children before the middle school years, but with them shopping more independently and visiting their friends´ homes more often, this can be a great conversation to revisit.

  1. Emphasize that they should always share with you things that they are unsure about. If something or someone makes them uncomfortable, they should be very open about this.
  2. Discuss the dangers of being in isolated one-on-one settings. You will have to decide how much detail you want to go into, but making sure your child is aware of how children can be exploited and targeted sexually is very important.
  3. Allow your child to ask questions and give them specific examples of what inappropriate words and actions from a trusted adult, friend, or complete stranger might look like.

Bullying: Identity Questions and Growing Judgments

During the middle school years, children are trying to figure out who they are. They are transitioning from their identity as a child into a young adult. Many preteens are faced with scrutiny from their peers. To put it bluntly, the middle school years can be torture for teens and preteens who are the victims of bullying. Discuss how and when to respond to bullying using the following tips:

  1. Make sure your child knows the signs of bullying and how they should and should not respond. This may include who they should report bullying to.
  2. As a parent, you want to be aware of the signs of bullying too because children may not always share this information. If you notice that your child is seeming fearful, isolating themselves, has unexplainable injuries, regular physical complaints, or anxiety, take time to talk to them about why these feelings are happening.
  3. Help your child understand what to do if they observe someone else being bullied. This includes: being nice to a bullied classmate; telling a trusted adult; creating a distraction to get the person being bullied away from the situation; modeling appropriate behavior such as not laughing or joining in on the bullying.
  4. Cyberbullying is another important conversation that you should have with your child. Online bullying in the form of text messages, social media posts, etc. can be just as harmful. Help your child understand what steps to take if they or someone they know is being cyberbullied.

Relationship Safety:

As we have already stated, the middle school years are a time of developing closer relationships with friends. FOr this reason, relationship safety is another vital topic to cover.

  1. Healthy relationships don’t result in you feeling pressured to do things you do not want to do. Helping your child know that it is ok to say ´no´ is an important life lesson they may need help developing.
  2. Hanging out with new people is okay. Make sure they know your boundaries on exploring new friendships and what is and is not okay.

When it comes to safety, the only bad conversation is the ones we do not have. There are many more safety issues that can help your middle schooler transition from childhood to young adulthood with greater understanding and clarity.

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