Many parents dread the moment – that awful day that marks the beginning of 7th grade – almost from the time their children are born. My 7th and 8th grade years were some of the most difficult of my life, and I’ve talked to many adults who say they feel the same.
Aside from their own experiences, parents fear that the changes which junior high will bring to their children will mean the end of all the fun of parenting and the beginning of all the awfulness. Parents worry about teen-aged attitudes, bad hygiene, and the biggies: sex, drugs, and rock and roll. (Okay, maybe not the last one so much.)
Sparks start to fly when parents let their fear and worry about what this child might become cloud their understanding of who this child is (and always has been). An innocent question like, “How old do you think I should be before I get a tattoo?” can set off a storm of questioning about who-planted-this-idea, and what-kind-of-kids-are-you-hanging-out-with-anyway, and what-will-you-want-to-do-next-pierce-something?
I can’t stress enough how crucial it is for parents to be low-key and use lots of empathy at this point. Humor is useful, too! A question like the tattoo one might arise out of curiosity rather than a serious desire. Try deflecting with something like, “Old enough that your feet stop growing,” or “How about you get my name on your arm and I’ll get yours on mine?” And then be more serious and ask why they’re asking. The key is to keep the conversation going without putting your teen (or almost-teen) on the defensive.
One of the biggest mistakes parents make with their junior highers is thinking this is the time to exert more control over their children’s lives. Instead of panicking and bearing down harder, a wise parent will take a deep breath and prepare to listen more before jumping to conclusions or issuing ultimatums (see “Be A Consultant,” posted August 7).
There are amazing thoughts popping into those young brains – I hear them in the classroom all the time! When parents shut down the lines of communication, they miss out on some fascinating stuff. As junior high students become more aware of the world, they have lots of questions they want answered. Parents need to fight their own tendencies to be defensive, calm down, and listen. There’s a lot to enjoy about a 7th (or 6th or 8th) grader!