Parenting a middle school-aged child is a complicated dance that weaves boundaries and guidance with an appropriate response to growing independence. How you manage this balance will go a long way in your success as a parent to a child in this age group.
Here are some things to keep in mind during those middle school years.
They are changing.
Change is a hallmark of kids in this age group. Everything in their lives seems to be changing at a crazy speed.
- Their bodies are changing.
- Their brains are changing.
- Their social lives are changing.
Keeping up with change is hard, and there is so much going on in your children's lives that they may sometimes feel overwhelmed and unable to handle it.
They will make mistakes.
You made some bad choices as an adolescent, and so will your children. Your kids are learning to negotiate a world that has higher expectations and greater risks than when they were younger.
You cannot protect your kids from making mistakes. It's your job to show your children that it's okay to make mistakes as long you learn from them.
Avoid making your kids feel like their mistakes are a result of something fundamentally flawed in themselves, but rather bad choices made by good kids.
Hold kids accountable for their mistakes, and show them how they can make a better choice the next time.
They need freedom.
Your children cannot possibly learn to handle freedom unless they are given the chance. Middle school is the time to start relaxing the reins and letting your kids do some things for themselves.
Each time you present a new freedom to your child, such as being able to spend time at the mall without a parent present or being allowed to attend a school dance, have a talk about your expectations. Make it clear that if your trust is violated, you will take that as a sign that the child is not ready for that level of freedom.
Be absolutely sure that you follow through on consequences for not living up to your expectations. Kids this age are going to push boundaries, and they need to be met with a brick wall. If you don't stay strong, they will just continue to push.
They are not adults.
Kids in middle school fluctuate wildly from acting like small children to being very responsible and grown up. Sometimes it can be tempting to believe that your child has developed the maturity of an adult or even an older teenager.
Be wary of these feelings because kids' brains can turn on a dime. While your kids are undoubtedly building maturity in this stage of their lives, they are not ready for adult responsibility.
Your pre-teens and young teenagers are working with brains that are not yet fully developed. This, in addition to a lack of real world experience, means that they cannot always predict the consequences of their actions or make decisions from an emotionally mature perspective.
Part of your job is to create reasonable boundaries around homework, screen time, curfews and bedtime. When your kids show that they understand the reasons for responsible behavior and can make good choices on their own, you can begin giving them more opportunity to make those decisions.
They need you.
No matter what your kids say, they still need you. They need your guidance and discipline, but they absolutely need your unconditional love as well.
Be sure your kids know that you are on their side through everything, and that you will be there for them even when you are not happy with their behavior. The world can be a rough place for kids this age, and they need to know that you are there to support them in the hard times.
Parenting a child in middle school is not easy at all, and you are going to struggle. However, an attitude of love and boundaries will set you up for success.