I recently read an excellent blog titled Four Things Children Do Not Need, and it got me thinking about what middle schoolers do not need–and what they do. :
What they don’t need:
- Belittling–they’re hard on themselves already, and they spend the day feeling like they don’t measure up to their peers. Instead of focusing on their flaws, look for what’s going well in their lives, and point it out in an offhanded way: “I noticed you were patient with your brother.”
- Pressure–Grades don’t matter as much in middle school as work habits do. Students who experience too much pressure are tempted to cheat or develop anxiety. Help them to figure out how to organize in a way that makes sense to them and encourage strengthening skills such as writing, mental math, and critical thinking. Such skills will help build success in high school.
- Overcommitment–If your middle schooler can’t start homework until 8 or 9 o’clock every night, it may be time to drop an activity. Experimenting at this age is great, but more than one or two teams or commitments is too many and often interferes with their sleep schedule. Making choices is an important life skill!
- Interrogation–This came straight from a 7th grader and was echoed by her peers: “Every day my parents ask the same question: ‘How was school today?’ Then they get upset when I say it was fine!” I asked how parents are supposed to know what’s going on, and the response was unanimous–assume everything’s normal until you hear otherwise.
What they do need:
- Honesty/Openness–Again, this came from the middle schoolers. If Grandma is really sick, they want to know. Shielding kids from adult troubles is not a bad thing, but do speak the truth, even if it’s only a portion of the big picture. In the words of an 8th grader, don’t “sugarcoat” everything.
- Unconditional Love–Teens who know they have this from their parents won’t have to make them prove it. If your middle schooler fails a class, or gets caught smoking, or sends a bullying text, will your forgiveness be a given? Of course there will be consequences, but is your continued love a no-brainer in your middle schooler’s mind and heart?
- Boundaries–They already have friends their own age; what they need from you is parenting. Sometimes they will get mad, and they may even hate you, but they will get over it. Be firm but fair, stay as calm as possible, but do hand out consequences and then stick with them. No teen ever died from having a phone taken away, and no parent yet has been hospitalized from a fierce glare or a cold shoulder.
- Value–People of all ages want to be listened to, taken seriously, and understood. Teens especially feel this as they begin the transition to adulthood. Let your middle schoolers know they matter by pocketing your phone, listening without interrupting, and responding with empathy–the same as you want them to do for you. Follow some of their suggestions and speak well of them within their hearing. Hug them when they’ll let you, and send them understanding looks when they won’t.
These years are intense, but they will pass quickly and leave you with a high schooler. Invest in your relationship now. Stay connected and supportive, and you may find the last half of the teen years to be easier than the first!