The current school year is coming to a close, friends, and a new one will be beginning soon. With new school years come new adventures, new grade levels, even new schools for some! This will certainly be true for our family as our second son starts high school. But in addition to that, next year, we’ll be parenting our third middle schooler!
You know, I’ve found that something funny happens when you tell people that you have a child in middle school. They automatically make a face. And not necessarily a nice face, either! It’s something akin to what happens to your face when you smell something bad…or when you’ve had a big shock…or when you say that your pet died. And, as you can imagine, it’s not very nice or encouraging!
But when you tell them that it’s your third (or more) time through that very special rodeo of crazy, all of a sudden people’s faces fall into two categories. They either look at you like you’re their hero…or like you are flat crazy.
I’m going to propose that it’s probably a little of both, but more of the latter.
Over the past six years of guiding our boys through middle school, I have learned some things and gained some insights that have proven true time and again. Of course, I don’t claim to be an expert or know all there is to know. Each child comes with his or her own special set of circumstances.
Today, though, I want to share 7 things in particular. Some food for thought, if you will. I have hopes of maybe alleviating just a bit of the nervousness you might be feeling if you’re about to ride that emotional roller coaster that is parenting a middle schooler for the first time. So buckle up! This could be a bumpy ride.
Lesson 1 – Grades are important, but not the be all end all.
What I have found is that focusing on grades alone is not helpful in this new learning environment. Kids need to learn organization, time management, self motivation, and so much more. All of a sudden, they are changing classrooms on the hour, futzing with lockers, and navigating new hallways. Instead of having one or two teachers a day to learn how to please, they have seven. That’s quite a steep learning curve!
In addition to grades, try to stress personal responsibility for accomplishments. Is the child on top of their own assignments and due dates? Have they given their best effort? Did they know what was expected and do their best to achieve it? If they can do this, the grades they get will be the grades they earn.
Lesson 2 – Kids try on different personalities all the time.
Some kids want to grow out their hair. Others will suddenly be bored with an activity they used to love. This formerly outgoing child might stop talking to people he doesn’t know and that shy kid might all of a sudden start cracking jokes like nobody’s business.
One day your preppy kid might decide to be a goth. Your daughter may attempt to use language that hasn’t been allowed before. New and different groups of friends will form and fall apart at lightning speed.
And hear me when I say, this isn’t because there is anything wrong with your child or your parenting! It’s just your kid, stretching his independence and testing her boundaries. It’s our job to give them boundaries to keep them safe, but room to figure out who they are and how they fit into the world around them.
Lesson 3 – Let them get in trouble now.
No, I don’t mean to just throw your hands in the air and give up parenting completely. That wouldn’t end well at all!
Rather, just don’t be surprised when you get a call from the school or another parent that your kid has messed up, maybe even in some pretty major way.
There are some benefits to getting in trouble in middle school (wow, me from 3 years ago would freak to read that sentence!). First, kids learn that they are subject to the rule of adults other than their parents. Second, if you support the consequences they receive, they are more likely to learn from their behavior. Third, they learn how to interact with their peers and adults before the larger, scarier world of high school can bring larger and scarier problems.
Lesson 4 – Try saying yes more often.
I get it. Sometimes it’s scary to say yes when your child asks to do something new or have some new freedoms. You want to keep them safe and protected as much as humanly possible. And there is nothing wrong with that.
But, for a minute, consider that they will soon be high schoolers, have their driver’s licenses, and ultimately leave home. Middle school is a great time to just start to practice saying yes. Within reason and within your healthy parameters, sure, but just try saying yes a little more often. Give them a little more freedom. You’ll probably have to rein them back in a few times, but you’ll never know how much you can trust them until you let go just a little.
Lesson 5 – Communication is key; no topic should be off the table.
Now is the time, friends, to have those conversations that make every parent a little nervous. And now is the time to let your child know that you are there for whatever questions they have and whatever they might want to discuss.
I’m not saying you need to go super in-depth with every topic. But answering questions honestly and openly with a maturity level that is appropriate will earn you big trust points from your tween/teen! Ask them questions, make comments they may not expect you to make, watch higher-maturity-level TV shows with them…all of these things can be the openers to some really awesome conversations.
Plus, the more you talk with your teen about the topics that make you nervous, the more comfortable it will become. And who would you rather your child come to with questions? You or that kid in their science class?
Lesson 6 – Now is the time to set the foundation of trust before high school starts.
When middle school begins, you are three short years away from high school. Five years from driving. And seven years from college. Now more than ever, you need to use lessons 4 & 5 above to set that foundation of trust. You need to trust that your child will make the best decisions possible. And they need to trust you to say what you mean, follow through in your parenting, and love them no matter what.
Lesson 7 – Privacy is good; secrets are bad.
All of this growth that kids do in middle school requires some room. They use the extra space to learn how to regulate their emotions, communicate with their peers, and practice being the person they are growing to be. Don’t we all remember just wanting to be left alone when we were their ages? Learning how to use their private time healthfully and respectfully is imperative.
Secrets, however, are not such a good thing. When kids keep things secret, there is usually some element of conscience, fear, or guilt that they are dealing with. And none of those things contribute to that foundation of trust that you are looking to build.
Continuing to Learn
Like I said, these are things I have learned after putting our two boys through middle school. And I am by no means an expert or “parenting professional.” I’m just a mom who has made a trip or two around the block. But the learning certainly doesn’t stop there! This coming fall, I have to send our first daughter in to the fray. Without a doubt, there will be more lessons to learn and more ways to grow. But then, that’s one of the beauty parts of parenting, isn’t it?