By Mike McDowell, Assistant Principal, Hutchinson Middle School
As we move into the second trimester of our 2022-23 school year and reflect on our students’ success or possible areas of improvement, it’s important for us as parents and mentors to collaboratively engage with our children in reflective conversations. Within these discussions, we can discuss areas that we feel are going well or need improvement. Reflection is a skill that many of us tend to forget about, due to the fast pace of life, school and work. Although this takes time, it’s an incredibly important part of working with our children and teens. These conversations encourage them to reflect on skills and habits that will help them as they mature into young adults.
Reflective conversations start with an open mindset and honesty. They must be handled with care and at times, our children and teens may not seem ready. None-the-less, their importance is invaluable. Some conversations and topics might be easier to approach than others, depending on the topic. In this article, I’d like to propose several topics or habits to reflect on with middle school students, but these could be adjusted for any age. These topics include promoting healthy peer relationships, healthy technology and social media use, and encouraging a growth mindset to overcome challenges.
Students at the middle school level (ages 11-14) are often met with the challenges of managing a variety of friends in their social circles. Many of these peer relationships take place in person and on social media. As students move into their middle school years, they may continue to spend time with past peers from former years, or may meet new friends. As parents, it’s important to note that this is a normal part of growth, but it’s also important to have a good sense of who your child or teen is spending time with in and out of school. Regularly opening the door to the reflective conversation about friends with your child and talking with other friends’ parents may provide insight into their friendships. In addition, if your child or teen has or uses social media, being in tune with their online friends or habits can encourage positive experiences and can help mitigate unhealthy behavior choices. This leads us to the next reflective conversation topic, which focuses on healthy technology and social media use.
Tech Expert Dave Eisenmann states that parents with children and teens who engage with social media regularly, should talk with their kids often about their social media use. It is suggested that parents start slowly with social media use and gradually release independence to their kids, similar to first riding a bike as a child. Parents with students of all ages and experiences, especially those with children who have their own personal devices, are encouraged to outline basic expectations for their use and consequences for when expectations aren’t being met. Setting boundaries and limits on social media use can be a proactive step in encouraging healthy online habits. According to Eisenmann, parents should be a part of your child’s social media life by checking in often and should feel empowered to intervene if they feel like boundaries are being pressed.
The final reflective topic I’ll reference when talking with children and teens, is the use of a growth mindset. As our children and teens grow and face a variety of challenges, their grit and resilience is continually being tested. As adults, we understand that set-backs occur and have a more fine-tuned ability to have perspective when working through challenges. For children and teens, this mindset is still being refined. Helping your child see the big picture in any situation, gain perspective and view themselves as individuals who can overcome hard things, can help them gain insight into their own strengths and weaknesses. This in-turn can continue to promote reflective thinking and continuous improvement for their future.
Reflective conversations allow us to get a glimpse into our children’s lives and offer them a chance to confide in an adult about a variety of important topics. By engaging in these topics and modeling the habit of taking time to reflect, we as adults can continue to find opportunities to guide and promote continuous improvement with our youth.