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Transitions: The First Year of Middle School

October 11, 2013  |  Falmouth Enterprise

By Dr. Michael Bihari

You've been anticipating this for several years and it has finally happened — your child's transition from one of Falmouth’s elementary schools to Lawrence Middle School. Be warned, this is a critical age for children and calls for extra vigilance on your part. Your son or daughter may still seem young, but their new surroundings can put them in some mature and tempting situations.

The likelihood that our kids will try drugs increases dramatically during this year. Your child is going to meet many new kids, seek acceptance, and start to make more — and bigger — choices. For the first time, your kids will be exposed to older kids who may use alcohol, tobacco or other drugs. New middle-schoolers often think these older kids are cool and may be tempted to try drugs to fit in.

To many middle-school kids, peer approval means everything and your child may make you feel unwelcome. He is going through a time where he feels as though he should be able to make his own decisions and may start to challenge your values. While your child may begin to physically and emotionally pull away from you to establish his own identity — and may even seem embarrassed by you at times — he actually needs you to be involved in his life more than ever before.

Also, be aware that your child is going through some major physical and hormonal changes. Her moods may vary as she tries to come to terms with her ever-changing body and the onset of puberty. Keep yourself educated on what to expect — if you reassure her that nothing is out of the ordinary, your child can relax knowing that what she's going through is normal.

Middle School Substance Abuse

According to the recent survey conducted by the Falmouth Prevention Partnership and the Falmouth Public Schools 90 percent of the students taking the survey have not used  alcohol or any illegal drugs. About 10 percent of the students have used alcohol in the previous 30 days, 6.8 percent used marijuana, and 2.9 percent used prescription pills. 

One type of drug in particular to watch out for is inhalants, since they tend to be abused at a very young age. Inhalants are ordinary household products that are inhaled or sniffed by children to get high — but can cause serious brain damage, among other side effects. 

Nationally 20 percent of middle-school aged kids have tried inhalants. Locally, the Partnership asked the following question as part of the 2013 survey: On how many occasions have you sniffed glue, breathed the contents of an aerosol spray can, or inhaled other gases or sprays in order to get high in your lifetime? The survey result of 5.3 percent is significantly lower than the national experience.  

Although it is a low number it represents 11 children who might be in danger. Therefore, it's important to be aware of these harmful chemicals and be sure to talk to your children on their effects...learn more about inhalants.

Help Your Child Make Good Choices During This Transition

  • Make it very clear that you do not want her to use alcohol, tobacco, marijuana or other drugs.
  • Find out if he really understands the consequences of alcohol, tobacco and other drug use.
  • Get to know her friends by taking them to and from after-school activities, games, the library, and movies (while being sensitive to her need to feel independent). Check in with her friends' parents often to make sure you share the same anti-drug stance.
  • Be sure you know his online friends – as well as his other online activities such as websites he visits, with whom he emails, chats and instant messages, his Facebook page, and who he text messages.
  • Volunteer for activities where you can observe him at school.
  • Hold a weekly family meeting to check in with each other and address problems or concerns.
  • Get your kids involved with adult-supervised after-school activities.
  • Give kids who are unsupervised after school a schedule of activities, limits on their behavior, household chores to accomplish, and a strict phone-in-to-you policy (along with easily accessible snacks).
  • Make it easy for your child to leave a situation where alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs are being used.
  • Call kids' parents if their home is to be used for a party; get assurance that no alcohol or illegal substances will be at the party.
  • Set curfews and enforce them.
  • Encourage open dialogue with your children about their experiences.

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