4 Tips for Student Success in Middle School

There are a lot of changes for kids starting middle school—moving between classes, having a locker and combination, eighth-graders who are often much bigger, changing bodies, and more. Getting Smart published an article to help families prepare for middle school by identifying four keys to success.

  1. Middle schoolers need adults to teach them how the world works, but also be conscious of how their brain is functioning. Teenage brains are wired for learning, but the frontal cortex is not well connected yet. The frontal cortex, as noted in Illinois PTA’s report on young adults involved in the justice system, doesn’t get fully connected until the mid-20s. This important part of the brain helps to identify risks, make critical judgements, react rationally, as well as plan for the future and motivate ourselves. It is important for adults to begin conversations at this age to help them understand the role their actions today might have for their future, whether that is choices of friends, things they do, or pictures they post online.
  2. Middle schoolers need to be held to high expectations, but be allowed to make (harmless) mistakes. High expectations for our children are important, but we need to be sure that we aren’t focusing on perfection, but effort. Learning to work hard, do your best, and learn from your mistakes are critical parts of developing a growth mindset.
  3. Middle schoolers need support in thinking about the future, but also need to be encouraged to embrace the present. Coupled with the first two points, we need to help our kids think about what they want to do in life, how to set goals, and how to plan to accomplish those goals.
  4. Middle schoolers need parents to be involved, and they need to take ownership of their learning. Middle school is the age when kids start to pull away from their parents and begin to develop some independence. As adults, we need to support this critical development, if for no other reason than we don’t want them playing video games in our basement when they’re 30. But we still need to be involved with their lives because we know they won’t always make good choices. It’s also a time for us to encourage our kids to try new things and to discover what activities and ideas really excite their passion.

Check out the full article for more on these four keys to middle school success.

Photo © 2007 by GSCSNJ under Creative Commons license.

10 Allowance Do’s and Don’ts

An allowance is an important part of building up a child’s financial literacy. It teaches them how to save and builds responsibility. Great Schools offers a list of ten do’s and don’ts to consider before starting your child’s allowance.

  1. Have a plan: Before you start, figure out why you are giving them an allowance, how much to give, and how often. Determine if the allowance is a family member benefit or in exchange for chores or academic performance. Also think about what expenses your child will be expected to cover with their allowance.
  2. Money talks: Once you’ve figured out your plan, have a discussion with your child about their allowance and how everything will work. Answer all their questions, and consider putting the rules down in writing.
  3. Use it as a tool to teach common cents: Remember that an allowance is a chance for kids to learn how to handle money responsibly and to make financial mistakes while the stakes are low. You can ask if they’re sure about a purchase, but let them know that the final decision is theirs.
  4. The three S’s: Spending, saving sharing: When starting an allowance, it is a great opportunity to get kids to buy into the concept of spending only part of their money while saving some for larger purchases later and sharing some as well by donating to a local charity, church, or other worthwhile cause.
  5. Do chores count? The experts continue to be split on whether to tie an allowance to household chores or not, but keep in mind that when problems inevitably occur when chores don’t get done. Some kids will use the chores for cash concept against you, either not doing their chores on weeks when they don’t need the money or asking “how much?” every time you ask them to do something around the house that is not part of their regular responsibilities.
  6. Don’t deny their dues: Don’t withhold allowance for bad behavior or poor grades. An allowance should lead to better communication and trust between a parent and child, and using it as a disciplinary tool breaks that trust.
  7. Show them the money: You wouldn’t be happy if your employer was a little late with your paycheck or only gave you part on time, so don’t do the same with your child’s allowance. Determine a specific day and time to pay their allowance, and make it a priority to have the exact amount ready.
  8. How young is too young: There’s no set age to begin an allowance. Some research indicates that children as young as three or four can benefit from a very basic small allowance and that five-year-olds are often ready to save money. A good rule of thumb is that if your child has expressed an interest in what money is, how it works, and what can be done with it, they are ready for an allowance.
  9. Say no to credit: With so many purchases made online these days, it might be tempting to get an older child a debit or credit card. Experts are almost unanimous that it is far better for your child to come to you for online purchases no matter how small. Be sure to have them reimburse you right away in cash so you aren’t playing the role of the credit card.
  10. Next stop: Checkbooks! By middle or high school, your child may be ready for a checking account with you as the custodian. Doing so provides an opportunity to teach ideas like interest, budgeting, and balancing a checkbook.

Find out more about each of these tips in the Great Schools article.

Photo © 2010 by Carissa Rogers under Creative Commons license.

Revamped FERPA|Sherpa Provides More on Student Privacy

Online access and technology plays an increasing role in classrooms, and with that increase comes concerns about student data and privacy. Illinois PTA highlighted this issue a few years ago when National PTA partnered with the Future of Privacy Forum and ConnectSafely to create the Parents’ Guide to Student Data Privacy.

The guide was part of FERPA|Sherpa, a website and resource center to help students, families, educators, school districts, and legislators understand and navigate federal education privacy laws. In the past three years since FERPA|Sherpa was first launched, over 100 new laws have passed in 40 states regarding student privacy, new resources have been published, and best practices regarding student data protection continues to grow.

To reflect all those changes, FERPA|Sherpa has relaunched with a new design. Sections for families, schools and districts, education technology companies, and policymakers have been revamped. New sections for students, educators, state education agencies, and higher education have been created. A searchable resource bank of over 400 education privacy resources has been complied.

For families, the resources include not just the Parents’ Guide to Student Data Privacy, but also short videos and information on the role of student data in education, how student data empowers parents, how student data is used, and parent and student privacy rights. Of special interest to PTAs is the video on “directory information” and student privacy. There is also a section on keeping kids safe online outside of school as well.

Protecting Your Kids from the Sun

Summer means spending more time outside, and with that comes an increased risk of sunburns. For children, sunburns significantly increase the risk of melanoma (skin cancer) according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Even one blistering sunburn during childhood or adolescence can nearly double a person’s chance of developing melanoma.

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States, with 20% of Americans expected to develop skin cancer in their lifetime. Rates of melanoma have doubled since 1982 despite an increased use in sunscreen. The reasons for this increase are numerous, including increased use of tanning beds (especially by adolescent girls) and infrequent or improper use of sunscreen.

Protecting Your Child

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a list of things you can do as a parent to protect your child from the sun.

  1. Seek shade: The ultraviolet (UV) rays that cause sunburns and skin damage are strongest during the middle part of the day, so plan indoor activities during those times if possible. If not, finds some shade under a tree, umbrella, or pop-up tent. These should be used to prevent sunburn, not to seek relief after it’s happened.
  2. Cover up: When possible, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants or skirts. Clothes made from tightly-woven fabric offer the best protection. A wet t-shirt offers less protection than a dry one, and darker colors may offer more protection than lighter ones. Some clothing may have a UV protection factor listed based on international standards.
  3. Get a hat: Hats that shade the face, scalp, ears, and neck are easy to use and offer great protection. Baseball caps are popular, but don’t protect the ears and neck. If your child wears a cap, be sure to apply sunscreen to their ears, neck, and other exposed areas.
  4. Wear sunglasses: While sunglasses don’t protect from sunburn, if they block both UVA and UVB rays, they can protect your child’s eyes from exposure to UV rays. Such exposure can lead to cataracts later in life.
  5. Apply sunscreen: The CDC recommends using a broad spectrum (UVA and UVB) sunscreen with at least an SPF 15 rating. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends SPF 30 as a minimum. For best protection, apply sunscreen generously 30 minutes before going outside, remembering to protect the ears, nose, lips, and tops of feet. Reapply sunscreen throughout the day, especially after your child exercises or swims, even if using a waterproof or water-resistant sunscreen. Combine sunscreen with the other options above to prevent the sun from damaging skin.

Other Things to Know

The CDC also provides some additional tips and information on protecting your child’s skin from the sun.

  • Turning pink: Unprotected skin can be damaged in as little as 15 minutes, but it can take up to 12 hours for the skin to show the full effect of exposure. If your child looks “a little pink,” it may be a burn in a few hours. To prevent further damage, get your child out of the sun before they hit “pink.”
  • Tan: As the CDC puts it, tanned skin is damaged skin. Any change in color of your child’s skin indicates damage from UV rays whether it is a suntan or a sunburn. The “healthy, tanned glow” of your childhood is now known to be an indicator of potential skin cancer in the future.
  • Cool and cloudy: Just because it is cool or cloudy doesn’t mean you can’t get a sunburn. It is the sun’s UV rays that damage the skin, and clouds only slightly weaken UV rays. So be sure to use sunscreen and the other recommendations when spending time outside even on cool or cloudy days.
  • Oops: Summer activities have a way of running longer than we expect—Little League games that drag on or not wanting to head home when the kids are having so much fun on the playground. Plan ahead by having additional sunscreen on hand in your car, stroller, bag, or backpack so you can reapply it when the fun doesn’t want to end.

Photo © 1985 by Erin Stevenson O’Connor under Creative Commons license.