The Middle School years can be challenging ones. There’s a lot happening inside the minds and bodies of our tweens and teens. Not only are they changing physically, they are starting to have opinions of their own and we, as parents, are starting to lose the influence that we have had during the elementary years. But isn’t this what we ultimately want? To watch our child become independent? Then why does it have to be so difficult, right? Can someone clue us in on what’s going on in the mind of the middle schooler?
We talked to middle school students, parents and teachers to find out what middle schoolers wish parents and teachers knew but probably can’t or won’t tell them directly. Not all of these will apply to your child, but I’m guessing more than a few will!
What Your Middle Schooler Wants to Tell You….But Probably Won’t
Don’t. Freak. Out.
We’ve all been there. Your middle schooler comes home with some bad news. It could be their first bad grade on a major test or assignment. And we lose it. I actually think I said the words, “You’ll never get into college,” to my sixth grader after news of his first bad grade. Let me emphasize this again — my SIXTH grader. Big mistake. Watch your reactions closely. If you’re prone to “freaking out” and overreacting when your middle schooler messes up just a little, that same child will learn that you can’t handle it when they tell you something major. You may end up missing the big stuff because you couldn’t handle the little stuff.
So, you need to make sure your kids feel safe telling you things, from the daily issues to the hard things they eventually will deal with. You need to listen above all else. Your child already knows your expectations and they are already feeling terrible. Take a moment, breathe and practice that poker face. By not sweating the small stuff, you’re showing them respect — our next item on the list!
Respect Our Differences
Just because we’re family, doesn’t guarantee that our kids will act and think like we do. Many parents complain that they wish their child would show some respect! But guess what? In order to get respect, you have to give respect! Middle schoolers are trying to figure out what works for them and that means a lot of trial and error. They may choose to do things completely different than you when you were this age. They may not want to follow in your soccer footsteps or their study habits may not mean sitting in the desk that you spent hours picking out. If they discover they are more into music and theater or their bed gives them room to spread out, let them do it. That’s your way of showing them you respect who they are, and you may just find they return that respect right back to you. Earn their respect and then insist on it, but do the same for them. And if you blow it? Apologize when you mess up and they will learn to do the same. In the same way, be willing to forgive your kids quickly. This is a building block to a solid relationship. Keep building that trust.
I May Not Say It, but I Think I Need Boundaries
Middle School is a new chapter in life. There’s a need for more independence, but there is also a need for clear boundaries. You will see it and feel it more than ever in the push for social media. Many elementary students are on Instagram and Snapchat. (Something I would highly advise against, but that’s a post for another day!) If your child is just entering into the ‘need’ for either of these social media outlets (or whatever the latest is since it changes every minute), sit down with them and learn more about them. Keep in mind the minimum age for most social media accounts is 13 years old.
Are you willing to let your middle schooler have these and if so, what are the rules? My kids have to write a ‘request for an app’ that outlines what the app is, the positives, the negatives, and what they think the rules should be. This works great for three reasons: (1) My son is learning to write a business proposal, (2) My son usually prolongs getting the app for 6 months because he doesn’t want to write the proposal, and (3) We set the rules together and he feel he has ownership of it. That last one came as a surprise to me, but I find that he sticks to the rules we set forth and we don’t have many arguments over it. The main thing is, come into the discussion with what you think is best for your family, but if you are willing to bend a bit to what your child wants (without sacrificing your morals), you’ll have a much easier time. Hey, it also shows them a little bit of #2 on our list: respect. It also leads to our next item: Independence.
I’d Like to Be Independent!
This all leads up to what we all remember from middle school: We’re feeling grown up and we want to exert the right to do what we want! Everything that can be challenged will be challenged. Bedtimes? Well, that 8:00 bedtime is a thing of the past mom! Friends? Mom, you can’t manipulate those friendships anymore! Netflix? Make sure you read up on what the new ratings are and set those parental controls!
These are just a few ways that your middle schooler will push their need for independence. And the number one thing that you will hear from them? “But my friend’s mom doesn’t care!” Yep, they hit below the belt. You want to be that cool mom but you want to stick to stay strong on your rules. Don’t bend for your child on an issue that you need to draw a hard line on. Chances are that your child’s friend is saying the same thing about you to his or her mom. There are other issues that you don’t have a hard line on, so pick your battles and negotiate when needed. Maybe a 9:00 bedtime isn’t so bad and the newest teen drama on Netflix can be something you watch together. You’ll feel good and they’ll feel independent. Plus, despite the show not being your thing, at least you’re watching it together, which leads to #5: Be Present.
Your child is so excited to enter middle school, but as time wears on they begin to feel the pressure from class, from friends and sometimes from us. Right now, they are in that awkward space between being a kid and entering the grown-up world. They may not say it quite this way, but your middle schooler wants you to know they are still vulnerable, they still need you and that this recent growth spurt didn’t do anything to change the fact that they still need to be tucked in at night. So be there! Put everything else to the side and let them be the center of your attention. Most importantly, take a look at yourself. When you’re complaining that they are constantly on their cell phone, are you, too? Put. It. Down. You’ve only got a few years left with them at home and believe me, they go FAST. And spending time together doesn’t have to be a momentous occasion. Just hang out in the same room! When you hear “Hey, mom?” your middle schooler may be deciding it’s time to open up. Be ready to listen. You don’t want to miss this moment. When they share, maybe you can share, too. You were in middle school once and I’m sure you have some cringe-worthy, relatable stories to tell.
Be fully present for your child. Listen to them. Encourage them. Pray for them. And if it’s silent, enjoy their presence and be ready to encourage and affirm them when they are ready to open up. Yep, that’s #6!
Encourage and Affirm
Self esteem begins to decline as kids enter middle school. Comments made in the hallway, a quick Snapchat that sends the wrong message or an Instagram post with all your child’s friends in it except them all lead to the feeling of inadequacy. Your child is looking for a sense of belonging and wants to be affirmed. This is where you come in. It takes half a dozen positive comments to offset just one negative comment. Don’t be afraid to say it! “I’m proud of how hard you’ve been working!” “Good job on your test!” “Yay! You met your goal!” It may seem small, but these little comments make a difference. Focus on confidence-builders not empty flattery. If they hear it from you, they’ll begin to believe it and have a strong foundation for self esteem. Belonging and being loved and wanted is critical for your middle schooler.
These may just be scraping the surface of what your middle schooler wants you to know but doesn’t dare say. Keep listening. I guarantee you can figure out more if you slow down and listen. YOU are the best mom your middle schooler could ask for!
At some point you’ll feel you’ve got this in the bag. When does this happen you ask? Right as you register for high school, and then it’s a whole new ballgame. If you have another child entering middle school, not to worry. You’ll still have your work cut out for you because they will choose a completely different way in which to challenge you. Hang in there mom, you’ve got this!
At Brookfield Christian School, we recognize that middle school can be a challenging time for any student. While it’s a season of many physical and emotional changes, it’s also a time for students to personalize their faith in Christ. Caring and committed Christian teachers serve as role models for the students, helping to reinforce how God fits into everything they do, from education to their social life. We are confident that we are not only preparing our middle schoolers for high school, but also for a place in God’s kingdom. Through a challenging curriculum as well as a variety of leadership, service, and extracurricular opportunities, BCS prepares students to thrive and excel in high school and beyond.