It’s An E-Ticket Ride

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“She’s so emotional!  When I started talking about her new school, she burst into tears, ran to her room, and locked the door!”

It’s a familiar story at the end of the year, whether or not there’s a new school involved.  Middle schoolers are such emotional creatures anyway, and all of the emotions that come with endings and new beginnings bubble up and overflow.  The adults in their lives find themselves riding a roller coaster with blind turns, breathtaking climbs, and alarming dips.

The best thing a parent can do is to hold their middle schooler’s hand during the scary parts, high five them during the exciting parts, and try not to be caught off guard by the next outburst.

At our school, the 8th graders graduate in June and go off to either 9th grade at a junior high, or freshman year in high school.  Doesn’t matter where they go, they’re leaving behind all that’s been familiar – for 10 years for some of them – and heading into foreign territory.  Their comments throughout the year swing from “I can’t wait!” to “I don’t want to go!”  I tell them they should be ready to leave but sad to go, and they appreciate that I understand how mixed up they are.

That’s the parents’ job, too – to show they understand.  A middle schooler will appreciate a parent who shows empathy far more than a parent who belittles – or worse, who tries to change – their feelings.

 

End-Of-Year Blues

“Four more weeks!” “Four more days!” “Four more hours!”

Everyone counts down the days until the end of school, but many parents will tell you – the excitement lasts about four days.  Then the whining begins:  “I’m so bored!  I miss my friends!”  And yes, even – “I wish we still had school!”

The end of the year brings mixed emotions for everyone, because it means the end of the familiar.  The daily routines change, the time spent with friends decreases, the conflicts with siblings and/or parents increase.

There is also a sense of loss, because when the new year begins in the fall, students will have to face new teachers, new classrooms, and new lessons.  Some will be moving to new schools, while others will miss friends who have left for other schools.

It’s not unusual for a teen’s mood to go from elation and relief to moping and depression within a few days of school’s end.  Shrugging, sighing, and a loss of interest in regular activities are all symptoms of a teen who’s suddenly realized the whole summer is stretching ahead, and at its end lies new territory.

Allow a day or two for moping, and then intervene before it gets too entrenched.  Arrange a day out of the house, either with friends or with family.  Enroll your teen in a summer course or sport, usually found for a small fee through your local parks and recreation department.  (But be sure to invite a friend – to a teen, it isn’t any fun with a group of strangers!)

Soon enough, most teens will find their summer rhythm, and the blues will fade, but only for awhile.

You can expect their return right around the time school starts.

Bridge Builders and Burners

When I ask students what it means to build bridges, they say, “Cry me a river, build a bridge, and get over it.”  I sigh, roll my eyes, and explain that it means making a connection to somebody to build a relationship.  They’re surprised to hear such a thing.

As the school year winds down, some students are good at building bridges.  They realize they won’t be seeing certain people all summer (or even next year), so they can put up with them and show them some extra patience.

But then there are the bridge burners.  They won’t be returning (or they’re graduating), so they have an attitude of “doesn’t matter what I say, because I won’t be seeing you anymore anyway.”  They can make life difficult for those around them.

It’s a good idea for parents to chat with their teens at year’s end and see where they’re at emotionally.  Of course, this won’t be accomplished by marching up and asking point blank, “How are you feeling about the end of the year?”  You have to watch for your opportunity: a mellow moment at the end of the day, a relaxed time while watching TV, a lengthy car ride where nobody falls asleep.  Then be low-key and ask offhandedly, “Excited about the year ending?”

Be prepared to listen without too many questions or criticisms.  Comments of “Well, don’t worry. . .” or “Do you think that’s a nice thing to say?” will shut down communication.  Instead, use empathy with comments like “Oh, yeah, sounds tricky” or “Ouch, bet that hurts.” This will get you much farther and will show that you’re really listening.

An hour or a day later, you can say (again, offhandedly), “I’ve been thinking about what you said about (fill in the blank).  Want some advice?”  If not, let it go.  If so, give it as if you don’t care whether it’s taken or not.  Do be prepared that while your offer may be refused at first, you may be asked to advise a day or so later.

Just think – you’ll be building a bridge of your own!