Slam! The sound of the door to your child’s bedroom closing may become all too familiar as he enters 5th grade.

Don’t be surprised if you come to regard the door slam as a form of parent-child communication. Was it loud? Must be mad about something that happened at school. A betrayal by a friend, maybe. Or, less likely, a low grade on a test. Was it a medium-loud slam? Must be in hurry to grab a basketball or video game before dashing back out to play with his friends. Was it an extra-quiet door closing? Uh-oh, what’s he up to in there?

Fifth-graders crave independence. They want to be with their friends. They often get upset when their longtime pals form new allegiances or if they feel they are not part of the crowd. Your child’s social life may be constantly changing—today’s best friend is tomorrow’s enemy. Other 5th graders will cling so tightly to a best buddy that you fear they’re missing the chance to make new friends. They develop crushes. They get their hearts broken.

Perhaps the hardest thing for parents is knowing when to intervene and when to step back. “They’re trying to grow up quickly,” says Kim Bearden, a veteran educator and cofounder of the Ron Clark Academy, a private school and teacher training center in Atlanta. “Parents need to be very involved. A 5th grader is still a child.”

Bearden recommends allowing children of this age a small amount of privacy, such as a diary. But most of the 5th grader’s life should be conducted in plain view of Mom and Dad. “It gets harder and harder, the older the child gets, to know all your child’s friends,” she says. “It’s important to get together with your child’s friend’s parents.”

I’m not Friending You on Facebook, Mom!

The social lives of today’s 5th graders play out largely on the Internet. This can be scary for parents who find the online world shadowy and unfamiliar. Bearden and other experts strongly recommend placing the home computer in the family room and not allowing your child to use the Internet while in her room. This has become more difficult in the days of laptop computers, full-service cell phones, and other supposedly convenient ways of accessing cyberspace.

Let your child have an email account, but insist on knowing the password, Bearden suggests. If your child has a Facebook page, insist that she only accept friend requests from people she knows personally. “You want to get them to make good choices, but they still need the supervision,” she says.

Parents should familiarize themselves with their child’s online world. Set up a Facebook page of your own even if your child groans with embarrassment. Figure out how to work the privacy settings and require your child to make her page visible only to her friends.

Keep up with online trends. Do your child’s friends talk more about MySpace, a social networking site similar to Facebook? Then learn to navigate that world. Are they talking about sites you’ve never heard of? Go online and find out what these sites are all about.

The most important thing about allowing your child supervised Internet access is communication. What is she looking at? Why is she looking at it? Who is she talking to? Suggest surfing the Internet together to pick a new recipe or to find out about the latest fashion trends. Let your child know you aren’t trying to lock her out of cyberspace but you are concerned with keeping her safe.

My Child Did What?

At this age, faced with increased freedom, peer pressure, and opportunities to make choices, most children will get into a bit of trouble. It’s tempting to jump in and defend your child against any accusation of misbehavior, but it’s important for parents to accept the reality that all kids mess up.

“Even really great kids will make bad choices,” Bearden says. “Even really good parents,...their kids still make mistakes.”

Luckily, it’s often easy to find an appropriate punishment for a 5th grader. Taking away a video game, restricting telephone or Internet usage, or forbidding a child to attend a social event she has anticipated will drive home the message that you won’t accept bad behavior. After communicating a child’s punishment, remind her that you love her, and don’t be hurt if she says she doesn’t believe you.

Continue rewarding your child for good behavior, often by giving her a little more freedom. If you see you’ve given her more freedom than she can handle, pull back a little. Let your child know you are always available to listen to whatever’s going on in her life, but realize you can’t force her to share all the details. As time goes on, your child will open up more.

Until then, you always have the bedroom door.

For more information, read “5th Grade Academics: What To Expect”

Journalist Patti Ghezzi covered education and schools for 10 years for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She lives in Avondale Estates, Ga., with her family, which includes husband Jason, daughter Celia, and geriatric mutt Albany.