Having worked with middle school students for more than 25 years, I have come to love middle school children. It is a unique time in a child’s life when significant things are happening inside, outside, and all around the child.
However, these changes can also be challenging for the families of these students. There are a few keys to remember as your child approaches middle school.
While different cultures have different expectations for adolescents, I believe that these principles are fairly universal.
Your child is going to change
A lot. The sooner you accept this, the better. At the end of puberty, he or she will be a young adult. Your child will change in just about every way you can imagine, and some you can’t. Instead of mourning these changes help them develop positive habits and attributes.
These changes may be uncomfortable for them
They may be moody, irritable, and volatile. You don’t need to accept bad behavior or rudeness, but realize that the root cause of these bad behaviors is a major flood of hormones that is coursing through your child’s body. A secondary cause is the fact that they feel their world is changing.
Your child will care more about what his or her peers think and less about what you think
This is natural, so don’t be hurt or offended. Your child still loves you — sometimes, it may seem very deep down. For a time, one of her primary motivations will be to get status with her peers. This may seem almost all-consuming at times; impacting everything from the way he dresses, and talks, to his movie and music choices. This is normal.
Your child will probably be more focused on getting by socially than on anything else — including school work
Understand that your child will probably have less desire to work hard in school. There are exceptions. Yet, even very good students sometime experience a decline in their academic performance.
Your child will push every limit
Set clear limits for your child. Then, hold to those limits. Be careful and thoughtful, though. Realize that there may be conflict over the limits. However, realize that these limits will provide stability and predictability for your child during these uncertain years.
Preserve the relationship
Sometimes it is better to bend on something than to damage the relationship. Allowing your child to see you compromise and be reasonable will be powerful. Sometimes it is better to give in and remove conflict than continue to fight. Each parent has to decide when it’s appropriate to push and when it’s important to retreat. When your child’s adolescence ends, he or she will have outgrown a lot of these problems. Your relationship will be whatever you have built during these years.
Show love in ways that your child understands, even if you don’t
Find something to do with your child that your child enjoys doing.
Realize that this time will end
Like other periods in your child’s life, this will end. Once it ends, your child will have become a young adult. With young adulthood will come greater autonomy and potentially very few years left at home. Even though these can be tempestuous years, it’s important to cherish them and embrace the unique opportunities that come.
Braden Bell has a Ph.D. in Educational Theatre from New York University. He and have wife have five children of their own. Braden has worked with middle school-aged children in a variety of contexts for over 25 years. He currently teaches theater and choir in a middle school in Tennessee.