Your 8th grader almost made it through a three-year social, emotional, and academic roller-coaster ride from tween to teen. High school plans in place, they were looking forward to a carefree spring term of 8th grade dances, school trips, and graduation. Then, everything changed; and your eighth grader lost these rites of passage.

The highly anticipated transition to high school is nerve-racking and full of unknowns in the best of circumstances. But now your 8th grader is wondering if they’ll get a “normal” start to high school in the fall — or if they’ll be stuck at home forever.

What will next year look like?

The sober truth is nobody knows yet. Some 8th graders are already getting invitations to spring and summer 9th-grade Zoom “picnics” and orientations, where they will meet classmates and school staff on the small screen instead of at their new high school. In these abnormal times, it’s normal for your 8th grader to wonder: Will I even get assigned a locker? How will I meet my future best friends? What does high school even look like without those important interactions that lay the foundation of a fruitful high school life?

How to help your 8th grader cope

Acknowledge your child’s sense of loss. “The inclination for parents is to try to talk them out of the way their child feels,” says psychologist John Duffy, author of Parenting the New Teen in the Age of Anxiety. “Eighth graders are going through an enormous amount of grief. The most important thing you can do is to talk honestly about what they’re going through.”

The end of innocence

Letting your 8th grader know that you know it’s hard for them is vital given the unsure months ahead. “The way it’s going, there may be more losses,” says Duffy, who says pretending otherwise does your child a disservice. Developmentally, your young teen can see at least some of the big picture. Although even in ordinary times middle schoolers exaggerate how dystopian their world is (think Hunger Games), they can realistically assess what they are experiencing during these truly strange times, which is a lot of loss. “Many 8th graders I work with feel that this time in their life, right before high school, is their last moment of innocence,” says Duffy. “They’re thinking, ‘I should be able to relax and enjoy this time and I’m being robbed of that,’” before they begin the intense high school gauntlet that will make or break their college dreams.

How to help your 8th grader cope

Instead of offering promises that may not pan out, validating your child’s reality works wonders. Simply saying, “I’m really sorry, this is sad,” can build a foundation of trust with your emerging young adult who may be facing continuing challenges in a world where face masks and social distancing become the norm for the near and long future.

The tense present

In the meantime, life in home lockdown continues. At this age, peers more than parents tend to be essential for emotional support and connection. Your 8th grader may also be missing key relationships with teachers, coaches, and other adult influencers who help them learn who they are in the world. What’s more, they are facing a lot of middle school “lasts”: that ego-boosting role in the spring school play, the academic award handed to them as they walk on stage at graduation, the MVP accolade announced in front of hundreds of fans on the playing field. Instead, they must spend this time in close quarters with their family.

How to help your 8th grader cope

Give them space, because 13- and 14-year-olds desperately need physical and emotional space. As for those extra hours they might be spending on their phones and laptops? Maintaining friendships is key for 8th graders, and these days, they can only do that online. So Duffy suggests loosening up the usual house rules around screen time. Yes, your child should get exercise every day, sleep, and eat well. But resist the urge to nag (‘Cause that works so well!) and, recommends Duffy, replace it with this much-need mantra for your 8th grader: “I’m here for you.” Says Duffy, “Your eighth grader in particular needs to hear that.”

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Updated: May 12, 2020