Middle School and Health Challenges

The school year brings a number of health challenges

Many tweens are too busy during the school year to eat right.
Be sure your child has time for healthy eating and snacking.. Carey Kirkella/Taxi/Getty Images

A new school year brings a lot of opportunity for success, achievement, and learning. But the school year can also bring its own challenges, including health challenges. If your tween is getting ready to begin another year of middle school, here's how you can prepare for the potential health challenges the year will bring and tips to avoid some of the potential health setbacks. 

The Health Challenges of Middle School

Exposure to everything. Your student will be exposed to a variety of colds and other viruses over the course of the year.

Flu and stomach flu season can be especially challenging for busy families, and it's difficult for a child to stay up on academics when he or she is confined to bed for a week or more. Be sure you discuss behaviors that will reduce your child's risk of contracting the flu—such as washing hands, and avoiding close contact with someone who is sick. Also, discuss whether or not the flu vaccine is an option for your child at his or her annual physical.

Think about food poisoning. Your middle schooler has to eat at some point during the school day and that means either bringing or buying lunch. If your tween decides to bring his or her own food to school, you'll need to make sure the food is either kept cold or hot in order to prevent food poisoning. Food poisoning is especially risky during hot or warm weather, so be sure you know what your child is planning for the week's lunch menu and then plan and pack accordingly.

Beware of sports injuries. Middle school gives students the opportunity to join a club or school sports team. While those opportunities are wonderful, there is a potential risk of injury if your child plays for a sports team. Be sure your young athlete has a sports physical before he or she begins a new sport or a new season.

Overuse injuries are very common in youth sports, so be sure you know what injuries are most common for his or her sport. It might be wise to observe a practice or two to be sure your child is practicing safely and wisely. 

Stress, anxiety, and depression. The school year can be especially stressful for middle schoolers. In middle school social pressures can be quite extreme, and homework and academic responsibilities are increased. Children who were exceptional elementary school students may find that their perfect grades aren't as easy to achieve as they once were. Be sure you stay on top of your tween's moods, worries and anxieties. Help your tween develop a balance between school and life, and be sure your child makes time for fun and time alone to decompress. If you're worried your child might be developing depression or anxiety that won't go away, you should contact your tween's doctor for a consult. Also, be sure your tween gets enough sleep every night and also on the weekends.


Weather worries. Weather is often unpredictable and your older child may not be as responsible about tracking the weather and planning accordingly. Review daily and weekly forecasts with your tween and remind him or her to choose clothes and footwear based on weather predictions. Weather can also interfere with sports, extracurricular activities and transportation to and from school. That's why your child should also know to consider how weather might prevent him or her from getting to and from school, or consider whether it's worth driving through dangerous conditions just to attend a sports practice. Your goal is to help your tween make responsible and safe decisions and to consider the potential consequences of just forging ahead without consideration.

Peer pressure and bullying. Peer pressure and bullying are popular topics in today's headlines, and for good reason. The consequences of bullying can last a lifetime and can have sad and tragic endings. While bullying is often a topic of conversation at PTA meetings and at the dinner table, the truth is the anti-social behavior often goes unnoticed by educators and parents.

Bullying behavior peaks during the middle school years and no child is immune to it. Even popular children can be bullied, and the bully can be a friend or former friend, frenemy, neighbor or another peer. So, how do you project your child from bullies? The first step is to let your child know that you want and need to know about anything that is going on in his or her life that is upsetting or unsettling. Your child needs to know that you are on his or her side, and that you can be trusted. Role play with your tween so that he or she can collect ideas on how to deflect a bullies advances, and be sure to be aware of your child's reactions and behaviors around other children. It's also important to check in with your own parenting peers because they may know more about what's happening in your school or neighborhood than you do.

Too busy to eat right. The middle school years are busy for the students and their families. Your tween will tackle homework, projects, extracurricular activities, sports and other interests and passions. Add family time, family responsibilities and any number of unexpected events and the school week can quickly become busier than you anticipated.

Busy schedules can interfere with nutrition and healthy eating. When schedules are stressed healthy family meals are replaced with quick stops through fast food drive-thrus and grab and go snacks, such as chips and sodas. Be sure you and your tween commit to making healthy eating and nutrition a part of everyday life. Stock the pantry and refrigerator with healthy snacks, such as fruit and healthy dips. Be sure you also make sure that your schedules allow you all time to embrace a healthy lifestyle, that includes healthy eating and snacking.

Hygiene habits. Your growing child is entering puberty, and practicing good personal hygiene is as important as ever. Your tween should know that showering every day is a must, and that it's also important after a rigorous workout, or practice or game. Puberty presents certain hygiene challenges as well, in order to keep your child healthy. Tweens may be required to shower after gym at school, and that means making sure your child has all the necessities he or she will need including a towel, soap and deodorant. Your tween may not know how to use deodorant properly, how to shave, or how to prevent acne, bad breath and body odor. Lice is still a possibility so be sure your tween knows not to share hats, or hair brushes with someone else. A good resource can help, but you'll also have to make yourself available for any questions your child might have. 

Influence of older teens. Many middle school campuses are connected to high schools, or may even be a part of the upper level school. That means many middle school students socialize and bump elbows with teens who are many years their senior. While older teens can be a positive role model for younger students, they can also pose certain dangers to children who look up to them and want to be like them. Older boys can also take advantage of younger girls, making them feel grown up and wanting their attention. You probably can't do a lot about who your child hangs out with, or who sits next to your tween at the lunch table. But you should take the time to educate your tween on what you think is acceptable and non-acceptable behavior.

Be sure your tween knows how you feel about dating, drugs, and partying, and that he or she may have to wait a while before you are comfortable allowing your tween to spend after school hours with children who are much older. Keep your child engaged in activities with children his or her own age, and be aware of any changes your tween might exhibit that could suggest the influence of older and more mature teenagers. 

Introduction to alcohol and other drugs: It's scary to think, but your tween may have already been introduced to alcohol and other drugs by his or her peers. Even scarier is the real possibility that your child will have to choose what to do over and over again when someone offers them a drink, a smoke or even worse. If you want to keep your child safe and off of drugs you will have to invest time to educate your tween about the dangers and your expectations—and you'll have to have a series of conversations over the course of many, many years. One family meeting at the dinner table will not be enough, and neither will scaring your tween to "stay straight."

Be sure to enlist the help of trusted family and friends to reinforce your expectations and fears, and know what the dangers are in your neighborhood, at your child's school and in your community. Listen to conversations your tween and his or her friends might have in the car while transporting them, and be aware of body language, sneaky behavior and unusual behavior. If you think your tween might be experimenting with drugs, take action quickly. Enlist the help of your child's pediatrician, the school guidance counselor and anyone else who can help you help your tween. 

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