If you have been, or are currently the parent of a middle school student, you are well aware of the challenges that you face. Pop culture wants you to believe that high school is the most difficult time. In reality, by the time they get to high school, a large number of children have calmed a bit, become comfortable in their identities, and are making the slow progress towards adulthood and independence.
This isn’t to say that they don’t make mistakes and offer up challenges of their own. It is just that parents of high school students are usually adequately warned of the land mines that lie ahead.
Unfortunately, nobody lets parents know what a splash of cold water middle school can be. The rebellion, the raw emotion, the anger, the emotional upheaval, the bullying, the constant shifting of loyalties that seem to occur when kids make the shift from grade school to middle school are extraordinarily difficult to deal with, and the resources for dealing with these matters are limited.
There may be no obvious solutions to any of the emotional burdens that come with parenting middle school kids. However, there are a few life hacks that may come into effect.
1. Sign Up For School Newsletters and Email Lists
One of the great things about elementary school is that the teachers and administration are usually very proactive about communicating with parents (sometimes even too much). This tends to change in middle school because kids take more extracurricular classes, and may even be selected to move from classroom to classroom or even from building to building. This is also a time when students tend to communicate as little as possible both in practical and emotional ways.
Fortunately, technology and school administration makes it easy to keep up with what each middle school kid is doing. Chances are, your middle school has a website where you can sign on and track grades, put money on your child’s lunch account, and communicate with teachers. However, before you go overboard, just remember that not all teachers communicate through these channels each day. This means that assignments may be recorded as zeroes, but that may reflect a teacher’s delay in recording a grade.
2. Make Your House The Cool House
Most kids don’t start drinking or doing drugs in high school. This actually starts in middle school. The driving force behind this is parental denial (my kids would never do this – they are too young) and a dismissive attitude towards the emotional and social needs of middle school kids (they are loud annoying and dramatic). The best way to combat the risk of drugs and other risky behavior is to be compassionate, understanding, reasonably strict, and fun.
Yes, fun! The more enjoyable your house is to kids to who want to hang out in middle school is to make it attractive to this age group. This means encouraging friends to come over, hosting sleepovers, and otherwise making your home a welcoming place for your middle schooler and their friends. Yes, it will be noisy and a bit annoying at times, but you are better off having this crowd at home where you can monitor them. Sadly, other parents won’t do this, but if you do, you will know your child’s friends much better.
3. Pick Your Parenting Battles
The middle school years are a bit like the terrible twos. There is a lot of screaming and yelling and resistance towards parental authority.
Fortunately, for the most part, this is about kids becoming independent, working towards adulthood, and figuring out how to navigate life for themselves. You could take a hardline and punish and ground kids for every eye roll or minor infraction.
Some people may tell you that you are nipping bad behavior in the bud. However, while you are doing this, you are at risk of cutting off meaningful communication with your child. Ultimately, the question is this. Do you want a child who minds his Ps and Qs when speaking to you, or do you want a middle schooler who communicates honestly with you about issues such as bullying, drugs, sexuality, and other issues. If you pick the former, you cannot have the latter. If you believe the opposite, you are deluding yourself.
4. Stop Resisting The Cell Phone
If your child does not have a cell phone at this point in his or her life, it is time to reconsider that. This is no topic on which to take a big stand. Kids at this age who do not have a cell phone are not only at a social disadvantage, they are also at a safety disadvantage. There are no more pay phones, and it is presumptuous and entitled to assume that your child should just borrow a friends phone to contact you.
Keep your child safe and buy them a good cell phone with a great talk, text, and data plan. Then, if you want to keep tabs, you can use the best and free monitoring and access control software available to parents just like you.
By doing this, you are providing your middle school aged child with a safety net, a way to stay in touch with their peers, and also yourself a way of making sure your child is always safe. Don’t think of being plugged in as a bad thing. Think of it as being one tool for your kiddo to reach out to you or other loved ones.
5. Develop a Strong Sense of Skepticism
Newsflash. Your middle school aged child does not always tell you the truth when they are communicating with them.
Here is another newsflash. For the most part, this is not intentional. The gap between what kids tell you and reality is most often a matter of perspective, not a matter of integrity. This means that when they tell you their teacher hates their guts or that their friends really think they are a joke, they are not lying. They truly believe these things. Your job appears to be, at this point, being sympathetic while also being reasonably stern.
Of course, your sense of skepticism should not only be directed at your middle school kiddo. It should also be directed at peers, other kids’ parents, and even instructors. The reason for this is that these years tend to be high drama years and parents often get caught up in this and so can instructors. What this means is that parents can become immersed in the drama and conflicts rather than being a voice of reason. The result is an unfair targeting of your child.
Too long didn’t read; gently guide your kid away from drama, be a voice of reason; prepare for other adults to behave childishly.
6. Keep Your Sense of Humor
Please do not take yourself too seriously. If you lose your sense of humor during grades 6 thru 8, you will be absolutely miserable. First, ask your kids who they most relate to at their school. Then, tell them that they cannot mention their friends. That they can only bring up teachers and other staff members. If they follow this rule, you will find that they are most influenced by the teachers that are relateable, funny, and who can communicate with kids at their level.
Teachers and parents who are too busy hectoring, lecturing, are probably less likely to reach a middle school student than a parent who works to maintain a sense of humor. If your child sees that you are willing to joke about things, and that you do not fail to keep a sense of humor, they will be much more likely to communicate and to also listen to what you have to say about a variety of issues. This is likely because communicating with humor is more effective than lecturing.
7. Always Be Feeding Your Middle Schooler
Middle Schoolers are Hungry All the Time, just like toddlers.: The problem is they have far more access to junk food than ever before. You cannot control this, in the sense that you cannot dictate what food is made available to your child outside of the home. However, you can take charge at home by providing healthy foods such as string cheese, apples, raisins, bottled water, hard boiled eggs, whole grain breads and crackers, nut butters, fruits, veggies, hummus, and other healthy options. You can also keep treats on hands that are relatively healthy such as fat free puddings and yogurts. At the same time, it is extremely important that you remember that providing your child and their friends with healthy foods is only part of the equation. This is a time when unhealthy habits along with skewed perceptions about their bodies can lead to eating disorders.
8. Prepare to renegotiate bed time
Bed time will become an issue all over again. Just remember that this is not a matter of disrespect of rebellion. It is literally a matter of biology. At this age, a kid’s circadian rhythms begin to shift. Their bodies need to stay up late, sleep for long periods of time, and then wake up in the late morning or afternoon. Doctors understand this. Scientists understand this. Unfortunately, schools do not understand this. The result is that schools insist on starting middle schools, junior high schools, and high schools, extremely early in the morning. This means that kids are dangerously sleep deprived. Until common sense prevails, your best bet is to encourage quiet time from ten at night and beyond in order to ensure that your child gets at least a portion of the rest that they truly need. You will also need to expect resistance and anger, and you will need to remind yourself that the reason for this is sleep deprivation, not disrespect.