Sex, Drugs and … Welcome to Middle School!

Dear Mamas On Call,

I hope you can help me. My daughter is just about to start middle school and I am really nervous. I have heard that many of the kids there are experimenting with alcohol and sex and I can’t even imagine how to prepare her. She has been very protected and is very innocent. What should I do??

Worried in Falls Church, VA

Dear Worried,

Take a breath, calm down and know that you have the mom-radar to deal with this. Because you absolutely do! Sending a child off to middle school is stressful on the one hand and a cause for celebration on the other. As moms we tend to go to the stressful place first. We want our children to BE SAFE and when the whole scene and cast of characters changes we lose more control and it is scary.

But it’s a wonderful milestone, too and it says that she has been able to navigate her way successfully through babyhood, pre-school, kindergarten and elementary school. That’s big. She has been growing and learning and developing all along. And so have you. Whenever we’re faced with a big change that takes us outside of our comfort zone, we forget how much we know and how many life tools we have collected along the way. We forget that we are bringing a lot of skill and know-how with us.

Same goes for your daughter. She has faced many new situations in her life and there is no reason to believe that she won’t be able to handle this one, too. Good to remember that she is with a bunch of other girls and boys who are also feeling a little anxious and who also have moms who are feeling the stress as well. Everyone is new and in the same boat.

But I do understand your concerns and they are not crazy. They are real and you will need to monitor the people, places and activities that she gets involved with.

One of the most important things to keep your eye on right off the bat are the friends she picks. If she has chosen well in the past, most likely she will continue to do so. Hopefully, some of her old friends who you know and trust will be going to the same school.

But start early in getting to know the new ones and their families. Have her friends to your house and invite the mothers for coffee. Check out what their parenting styles are, what kinds of rules they have etc. without being obvious. You know how to do this.

And then steer her towards those kids who seem healthy and happy and away from those who look like trouble. She is still young enough to be swayed by you.

The peer group is really important when it comes to making choices, good or bad. So keeping your eye on who she is hanging out with is a good place to start. And keep those relationships with the other parents alive so you have a pulse on what is happening in her world. If the parents are on the same page and keep in touch many, many problems can be prevented or dealt with early on.

But it’s also important to let your daughter know that you are proud of how much she has grown and that you are confident that she will do great in middle school and make a lot of wonderful new friends. She needs to hear this from you. If she thinks you believe it, she will, too.

Keep the lines of communication open and start talking a lot about what she is observing at school. Be available to talk when she wants to and make sure that you as a family continue to do fun stuff together. Keep those all-important family dinners going at least 4 – 5 nights a week. Encourage her to join a club or two at school and take it all one step at a time.

As far as the sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll goes, start talking about that, too. Not right away and not so much from a place of worry or threats but more as something you casually start to include when you are talking. You can say something like, “By the way honey – believe it or not there are going to be kids at middle school who are already drinking or experimenting with sex or drugs. It’s really sad because those kinds of choices are going to end up hurting them and I hate to think about any children in pain or danger. The kids who are making those kinds of choices usually end up with a lot of problems and it’s best to steer clear of them.”

Don’t start off the year harping on all the dangers, though. Give her a chance to adjust and to develop some confidence. Then begin to include this topic in your conversations. Keep the dialogue going and don’t be shy about bringing it up.

But in the meantime, don’t forget to CELEBRATE this important transition and to make it a happy time, because it really is.

Congratulations and best wishes to you all!

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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.

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