How Much Responsibility Can a Middle Schooler Handle?

During our Pop-Up Schools, a rich dialogue often sprang up around questions of student independence. At what age is it ok to send your child on public transit alone? 6th grade, 8th, high school? How do we find the right degree of challenge, helping our kids discover more capability than they may realize they have, without taking too great a risk? All of these questions are on minds regularly as educators and as parents, and so we loved a recent article we came across by Elisabeth Stitt, titled "10 Things Your Kids Need To Be Able To Do On Their Own By Middle School.

Here is her top ten list:
1.  Get up, dressed and washed on their own.
2.  Make their own breakfasts
3.  Make their own lunches
4.  Get to school on their own
5.  Do homework on their own
6.  Do some cooking and some cleaning
7. Choose their own electives and extra-curricular activities
8.  Talk to teachers to get clarification on assignments, to ask for help, to ask questions about comments and grades received.  
9.  Be able to handle money.
10.  Get around by themselves. 

While we don't have any rule of thumb for what kids can handle at a specific age - it's an individualized decision - in general, our society tends to treat middle schoolers a little too much like they're still in elementary school. Middle schoolers have significantly greater capacities than elementary school students, and they want adults to recognize them as more responsible and capable. So, we love the spirit of this list, and note that the school-related areas, like choosing their own electives, and learning to proactively get help from teachers, are fundamental to our curriculum design and our advisory program. These make sense from a developmental perspective, and also in terms of the power of expectations: when you treat middle schoolers as capable young adults, more often than not they will rise to the challenge and surprise you with their abilities.