Few things are scarier than sending our kids off to middle school, land of hormones and gym locker rooms. Even science has confirmed that being the parent of a middle-schooler generally sucks, with this group reporting the least happiness of parents of any age group.
But is raising a middle-schooler really that awful? Jon Flyer, a former teacher and school administrator who is raising four kids between the ages of 12 and 17, admits that middle-schoolers can be tough, but says it’s not all bad.
“You will get to hear their voices change [and deal with] acne, hairstyles, and frenemies,” he told me. “They blush, they become self-conscious and realize that the world does not in fact revolve around their own heads. … It is a good time, a magical time.”
Magical? Jon admits it’s not always magical, but it certainly doesn’t have to be a complete nightmare. Here are a few things we can try not to worry so much about, in order to ease some of the stress …
Body odor and hygiene
As a parent of a middle-schooler, you know the stench of adolescence … and it is strong. While you should encourage your kid to shower and use deodorant, don’t freak out if they’re resistant. A friend of mine who raised two stepsons and now has two middle-schoolers told me, “They figure it out. Usually around the time they start to like girls.”
So don’t worry, soon enough you’ll be choking on the scent of cheap perfume and body sprays.
Getting perfect grades
School is important, no doubt about it. But as parents, our emphasis with middle-schoolers should be less on their grades and more on their organizational skills and teaching them responsibility.
Instead of demanding straight A’s, work with your kid on building efficient systems for recording assignments, keeping papers straight, and handing in work on time.
Rosalind Wiseman, author of the best-selling books Queen Bees and Wannabes and Masterminds and Wingmen, takes it a step further. She told me, “Stop worrying that your child isn’t keeping up. And that means no comparing your child to anyone else — their friends, their brothers or sisters, [or] random other children other parents brag about on their Facebook pages.”
As Jon mentioned above, middle school is often a time of “frenemies” — friends who act like enemies. And it sucks — for them and for us. But don’t worry, your kid’s involvement in friendship drama at this stage is normal. It’s part of pushing out of the nest and trying new types of relationships.
Instead of trying to solve your kid’s friendship problems or worrying that they’re destined for a future in reality TV, remind your kids of your values system and that you will not tolerate bullying of any form, online or off. And it never hurts to let them know that you’re around if they’d like to talk.
Middle-schoolers think they’re adults, but still act like toddlers half the time. Nowhere is this more apparent than in their eating habits. Robert Burke Warren, who is both a fantastic writer and father of a teenage son, says that he was worried about his son’s picky eating in the middle school years, but that his palate broadened over time.
Obviously we should still encourage them to eat as many healthy foods as possible, but we can be reassured that eventually their tastes do mature on their own and they won’t spend their whole lives in pizza parlors and burger joints.
Your kid is going to have mood swings. Even though it can be shocking, it’s totally natural and not necessarily a sign that your child is troubled.
Dr. Daniel Siegel, author of Brainstorm, explained in an interview on NPR that adolescents’ brains are growing and changing in ways that equip them for adulthood. Lashing out or back-talking their parents, while wholly unacceptable behavior, does not mean that they hate you or have an intent to disrespect you. They’re just pushing back against the status quo, which is natural for them.
Siegel recommends approaching the back-talk with calmness and not being reactive. “[Being reactive] takes the emotion of independence and hugely expands it in a way that doesn’t need to happen. … And it becomes a fight rather than a conversation.”
Keeping their rooms clean
One of the biggest battles with teens is over the increasing messiness of their rooms, where they spend more time as they get older. Kids see their rooms as the only space that’s truly theirs, while we see it as an extension of our homes. But in this case, giving your teen their victory can lead to peace in your house and a healthy sense of independence for them.
Rosalind Wiseman agrees. “Unless they’re leaving food or dirty plates in there — give it a rest. Just have them pick up all their stuff once every couple of weeks so they can find that missing book/homework, [or] favorite socks they’ve lost.”
While it’s comforting to know that we can ease off a few of our worries, there are two things you should pay attention to …
Sex and consent
This is a big time of experimentation, and it’s up to you to give your adolescents the information they need in order to grow into responsible, respectful people. Talk to them about sexting, porn, and consent and let them know you’re around to talk — about anything.
My friend Jim Higley, dad of three awesome grown kids, advised me that mental health issues are real at this age, saying, “Don’t for a second think that you can solve them with sugarcoated solutions. If your child has any signs of needing help with their mental health, you, as their parent, owe it to them to make sure they have the resources of everything you can provide them.”
Middle school is such a short time in life, try to enjoy it the best you can by loving and supporting your growing kid. The benefits are well worth the struggles!More On