Ah, middle school. The most awkward time of one’s development as an in-betweener. Out of those carefree days of childhood but not quite a seasoned, confident teenager (is there such a thing?)
Middle school can be such a confusing time, for both kids and their parents. These years are a hormonal roller coaster!
It is likely impossible to get out of this phase of parenting unscathed. But there are definitely some strategies to help you survive middle school as a parent.
Give opportunities for independence
Clearly middle schoolers still need guidance and protection, but they also need opportunities to make their own decisions and handle their own conflicts.
In an age of helicopter parenting it can be hard to loosen the reigns, but sometimes we have to step back, recognize a growth opportunity, and coach them on how to best rise to the challenge.
I will admit that it is not easy to allow my kids to learn lessons the hard way. But I am making a concerted effort to allow them to experience natural consequences and productively struggle so that they learn how to persevere.
My own perfectionist tendencies make this difficult, but I know that it will make them stronger in the long run and more prepared to meet challenges.
Don’t take things personally
I never know what to expect when my kids walk through that door after school.
Bubba Man usually gives a factual report of what happened, grabs a snack and disappears for a bit to regroup.
Punkie Lou is a wild card. She can be sullen and withdrawn, bubbly and full of energy or broody and irritable.
While I do not tolerate outright rudeness or disrespect, I also know not to take it personally when my kids are not in the mood to talk to me about their day.
Because of their hormones, middle schoolers can display a full range of emotions in a matter of minutes! During those moments of insanity, they will probably say hurtful things. They will roll their eyes, huff, sigh, or completely blow you off.
This is not a time to take things personally. Parenting these unpredictable humans tends to bring up things from your past and you may find yourself stooping to their level.
While tempting, it’s a much better approach to avoid arguments with your middle schooler. I try to lower my tone when I feel like yelling. Surprisingly, it actually works (sometimes). Nobody’s perfect.
Get them connected
Middle school is a time when kids are trying to figure out where they belong. Their peers become the center of their lives.
It’s important to get your middle schooler connected to the right people. They can’t navigate this time on their own. They need people in their lives other than their parents.
If possible, connect your kid to a trusted adult such as a coach, play director, dance teacher, or church small group leader. Having a mentor during this complicated period of growth can be a safe and consistent source of comfort to your middle schooler.
If you find your child hanging with the same kids all the time and they are hesitant to do things without those people, it’s time to make a change. Extracurricular activities offer adolescents a chance to grow, blossom, and be with different people.
Teach your child to be his/her own advocate
Middle school is a time when academics become more challenging. They are expected to manage multiple classes and navigate the hallways with all of their materials.
This also means that adolescents should be learning how to advocate for themselves and how to ask teachers for help or clarification.
Encouraging them to self-advocate coincides with giving your middle schooler more opportunities for independence and letting them learn from natural consequences. Don’t give in to the temptation to save them. Guide them to take responsibility and make things right when they have made mistakes.
Act like the parent
Your child will pull away from you during this time. They will turn to their friends and others for support and advice.
While it can be tempting to adopt the mindset of “I’ll let them figure it out,” the truth is, they still need your guidance. It is a fine balance between letting them experience natural consequences and enforcing boundaries.
Although they may not admit it or show it, middle schoolers need their parents more than ever. They are still looking to us to set boundaries and clear limits. They may not like them and may try to push them, but it is our job to provide them.
Adolescence isn’t easy, but with a little planning, preparation, and a strong sense of humor, you can survive middle school as a parent.