As a parent, no one was more eager to say goodbye to elementary school than I was. Between fundraisers, school pick-up lines, and a couple of rough behavioral years, my son and I were both ready to start fresh somewhere new.
Now, I wasn’t foolish enough to think junior high school would be easy. I fully expected it to be challenging for my son. What I didn’t expect was how hard junior high would be on me.
When CNN reported on a new study from Arizona State University that found middle school to be the most stressful time for mothers, I literally thought, “DUH.” I’d been feeling stressed as all hell the last few years. Suniya Luthar, ASU psychology professor and study co-author explained why, “… preadolescence is the new adolescence or junior high school or middle school is the new high school.”
That was exactly it! Adolescence was unfolding much earlier than I would have ever anticipated. If only I had known, I might have been better prepared.
While I understood middle school was designed to prepare kids (and their parents) for high school, I had trouble grasping how little elementary school had done to prepare us for the logistical and emotional pitfalls of junior high. As if going from one teacher to six wasn’t enough, transitioning into a student body nearly four times larger was the stuff of tweenage torture. Add puberty, the constant struggle for increased independence, and sudden exposure to experienced peers into the mix, and it’s no wonder we’re all stressed out!
As a middle school mom, I don’t have a handle on much these days. School moves faster than ever before. I talk and wonder if my son is listening. I listen and wonder if my kid feels heard. My son’s a different person from one day to the next, and me, well, I’m just struggling to keep up.
But what does it all mean? Is this the beginning of the end for middle school moms or is there a light at the end of the tweenage tunnel? According to Sue Acuña, middle school teacher and co-author of Middle School: The Inside Story: What Kids Tell Us, But Don’t Tell You, the shift in understanding begins with us. “It’s not just a phase they’re going through. There are some key things happening and it’s a really important time to develop a relationship that will carry you through the teen years and into young adulthood.”
In Acuña’s experience, the biggest middle school challenges come from parents failing to recognize and respond to their children’s natural evolution toward young adulthood.
So how can we, as parents, help?
Acuña suggests engaging in active listening, allowing our kids to speak freely without interruption. Makes sense, but I was surprised to learn that the way we listen matters just as much. Michelle Icard, author of Middle School Makeover: Improving the Way You and Your Child Experience the Middle School Years recommends “[Parents] adopt a ‘Botox brow’ and have a really neutral face when you’re talking to your kid. You’ll be surprised how much your kid opens up to you and starts coming to talk to you more.”
Botox brow? I like it, but not nearly as much as I like the idea of junior high graduation come June.More On