- Middle school students who feel their parents are more involved in their education have fewer mental health struggles — along with fewer suicidal thoughts and behaviors — in response to being bullied, according to a paper published this month in the journal School Psychology.
- The research, conducted by the University of Maryland's College of Education, also revealed a reverse effect: Middle schoolers who think their parents are less involved had more mental health problems and more suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
- Parental involvement seemed to be more of a "protective factor" for white students than students of color, for girls more than boys, and for 8th-graders more than for 6th- and 7th-graders. However, the research only applies to parental involvement's effects on face-to-face bullying — not cyberbullying.
Middle school can be a tough transition for many students — classes become more challenging, homework loads increase and students are more accountable for their performance. But things can also get rough outside the classroom, with more insecurity, more demanding social pressures and, oftentimes, more — and more extreme — bullying among students. What all of these factors have in common is their effects on a student's mental health.
As a whole, school districts are increasing their attention to students' mental health, and getting bullied by a classmate or peer can help cultivate and/or exacerbate such struggles. In 2018, one third of middle and high school students said they were bullied, up from one-fourth of students in 2016, according to a survey from nonprofit YouthTruth. In addition, the youth suicide rate increased by 30% between 2000 and 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found.
There's been a demonstrated need for more mental health resources in schools to support students who may be having a hard time, but a sizable part of every student's day exists outside the classroom. And just as teachers can play significant roles in a student's life — both academically and personally — parents are charged with the same responsibility. The University of Maryland study cites previous research that underscores parent involvement in a child's education — including helping with homework or taking an interest in their child's life at school — and how it can strengthen academic performance. The researchers' recent study supports the notion that parents' involvement can also help their children outside the classroom. Asking students about their days at school, showing empathy and encouraging open communication are all foundational steps in promoting better mental health.
The research also emerges at a time when schools are increasingly incorporating social-emotional learning (SEL) into their efforts to promote a healthy and positive school climate. And it serves as a reminder for school leaders that boosting parent engagement is also a way to support students' SEL skills and that family-school connection continue to be important as students reach adolescence. Open lines of communication between educators and parents, notifying families of new initiatives, and creating opportunities for parents to network with each other are just a few ways schools can demonstrate that they want to work in partnership with parents to support their children through a more challenging phase.