Offer challenges, play to strengths

Find a balance between freedom and learning for your middle-school child


When your child is an adolescent the approach of summer can look like an impending storm. Are they old enough to be home alone all day? How can I be sure they aren't watching TV or playing video games the whole time? How can I support their passion for their particular hobby or interest? How can I make sure they develop healthy, appropriate friendships? Before looking at ways to answer those questions, let's take a look at adolescents or middle school age youth. What are they really like? What are their developmental needs?

Research has shown that middle-school-age youth have some amazing characteristics.
-- They are highly curious and want to learn about things that they find interesting and useful.
-- They much prefer to learn hands-on and they like to interact with their peers when they are learning.
-- They are interested in real life experiences.
-- Adults fascinate them. They watch what we do.
-- They are striving to become individuals and to be unique but they care a lot about what their peers think of them.
-- They are very loyal to their friendship groups and have a strong need to belong.
-- Their bodies are growing and changing rapidly.

So how do parents balance their concern for their middle schooler's safety and personal growth with their child's growing need for independence, curiosity, and devotion to their friends?

Look for activities or experiences that will challenge your middle schooler. Make sure that they can learn hands-on and that they have some say in how the activities are structured or how they can participate.

Help them play to their strengths. It's important for adolescents to feel competent, to show others that they can achieve. Make sure whatever you and your youngster choose gives them opportunities for success. Check to see that the program or activity is led or taught by caring adults who understand and like middle school age youth. See that building friendships and treating others well is an integral part of the program or activity. Go through the options with your child. Talk about what is important to them and let them know your expectations.

Wisconsin Youth Company's Middle School U may be just what you and your child are looking for. It offers half- and full-day courses taught by skilled and caring instructors. Topics include a wide range of hobbies and interests -- cooking, sports and the arts are all offered. Courses are hands-on with time before and after class for students to hang out with their friends and socialize while they play cards, have a snack or just relax. Staff emphasizes respect and helps all kids to be a part of the group. Middle School U offers the chance for young people to learn new skills, make friends and safely exercise their growing need for independence.

Visit the Wisconsin Youth Company website to learn about Middle School U summer courses for middle school youth.

This story is written and presented by Wisconsin Youth Company, which provides quality before- and after-school care, summer day-camp and travel camp experiences and family travel adventures. WYC exists so that the children of Wisconsin benefit from communities that nurture them at a sustainable cost.

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