Many years ago in my new role as middle school head, a colleague told me that middle schoolers lose their brains and become different people for a few years before returning to earth as normal human beings again. At the time, I could not affirm such a proposition, but that was before I raised my own adolescents. How wrong I was. I have since raised three middle schoolers and gleaned valuable advice worth sharing with anyone raising children during those challenging years.
Middle school is roughly defined as ages 12-15, grades 6-9. My goal here is to help prepare those who have not yet entered those dark ages, and to encourage those currently doing battle during a time that can be tumultuous, yet sanctifying. Here are 10 tips for parenting during the middle school years:
- Don’t seek primarily to be a friend to your middle school child. Whether they realize it or not, they need a parent first. Friendship will come later.
- Learn to deflect negativity with unrelenting positivity. You may be overwhelmed by persistent cynicism and negativity, but you must play the adult by avoiding debates that without your positive outlook, will only result in depleted energy and decreased joy.
- Never rely on advice or input from your middle school child to inform key decisions. Their opinions can radically fluctuate, often changing by day, if not by hour or minute.
- Find common ground with your spouse and present a united front. Middle school children sniff out differences like bloodhounds and are uncanny at exploiting parental disagreements.
- Hold your child accountable and learn to lovingly criticize your kids for the right reasons. While parents need to serve as advocates, parents can easily exacerbate their child’s false sense of victimization by failing to assess the need for proper consequences.
- Be forewarned that mood swings come like a thief in the night. Actually, as untimely as a thief, but much more often.
- Don’t be surprised when your child stretches the truth or spins a story that seems to have no basis in reality. Their reality, though real to them, is often hyper-myopic.
- You’ve seen the shirt that says, “I’m not arguing. I’m only explaining why I’m right.” That was created by a 9th grade boy.
- You’ve seen the shirt that says, “Sarcasm: Just another service I offer.” That was created by an 8th grade girl.
- Exercise patience during those exchanges where, within seconds, you as the parent vacillate between laughter, tears, or on rare occasions thoughts of violence (never act on it!). It’s helpful to remember that the middle school phase will pass, and unmitigated patience is a necessity during what can feel like one long omnipresent debate.
As we raise our children to be self-sufficient, responsible, and faithful, we also need to have a sense of humor as we seek to parent in a way that honors each stage of their development. God is good, and He is sovereign at all stages of each child’s growth. Remember that by developing a culture of grace and compassion bathed in patience, your kids will mature and grow, and years later will thank you for your enduring, and endearing, love for them. Especially throughout those trying middle school years.