Middle school students rarely know what they want to do with their lives. Oh, they think they know, and they will tell you, quite emphatically, what they absolutely want to do. And next week they will give you a completely different answer.
This is normal for middle school kids (generally 6th – 8th grade, although it can manifest earlier in some kids). So they get really interested in something for a while, and they think this one thing is the best thing ever. And they may be right … but usually they are not. So, as the parent, you need to be there to guide them and to watch and protect them. As an adult, you are probably wiser than your middle school student, and you are looking at the “long run” much more than they are. As author Nathan Wilson reminded us this last week (he spoke at the school assembly on Wednesday), middle school kids will come up with some crazy ideas. Parents need to be firm and not freak out and be a steady wall of protection to guide them through these stormy years.
I am not a child psychiatrist, so I do not know if this is generally true. It is certainly true for my kids and for some of the students I see at Providence. Let me give you some examples.
My oldest child, Joe, always seemed to know what he wanted to do in life. This is not uncommon for a firstborn child. Joe loved pirates from an early age and he loved the swashbuckling adventures of heroes on land and at sea. So he kind of knew from an early age that he wanted to be a naval officer. Sure enough, that is what he is today. He was the easy child. Okay, he had other issues he had to deal with, as we all do. But, academically, he was the easy child.
My second born, Ryan, was always very athletic. When he was young, he played some soccer and basketball and ran track. In 6th grade, Ryan was introduced to the game of lacrosse. It was completely new to him, but it looked exciting. However, the fundamental skill of “cradling” the ball was quite difficult, and after two weeks of trying he was ready to give up. He told his coach that he should be a goalie because he could not figure out how to cradle the ball. His coach persuaded him to keep trying. He eventually learned to cradle quite well. In 7th grade, he was in love with soccer. He thought it was the best sport anyone could ever play. He wanted to abandon all other sports and focus on soccer. His mother and I convinced him to keep his options open and wait until later in life to concentrate on one sport. The next year, Ryan decided that lacrosse was the greatest sport in the world and why would anyone play anything else? Again, we persuaded him to keep his options open and play other sports as well. Ryan would, in fact, play soccer, basketball, and lacrosse in high school. His soccer team won the state championship his senior year, but he would get a scholarship to play lacrosse in college. Now, the sport he plays most often with his friends: basketball. So he is very thankful that he played all three sports in high school.
My next two sons, Luke and Matthew, really struggled academically in middle school. They were not happy campers. They were slow at reading and had difficulty with just about everything else to do with academics. History facts were confusing, math was mind-boggling, writing was painfully laborious, and standing in front of the class to give a speech was practically a death sentence. Matthew was so reluctant to do his homework that one of his older brothers would occasionally make him sit outside on the deck in the middle of winter, with no jacket on, to try to make him do his homework. Yes, these would be called the “dark ages” for them, except for the other things that they had in life that kept them going. But they persevered. For both of them, their GPAs would improve every year in high school. They truly blossomed in their junior and senior years (which I think is a fundamental, defining trait of a classical and Christian education like they get at Providence). Today, Matthew is an engineering student in college. Luke graduated with a BS degree in Biology and a minor in Chemistry. He is considering getting more schooling in the medical field and becoming a doctor or a physical therapist.
Jackson, our youngest, has tried to convince his parents, since about third grade, that homeschooling is the best option for his education. Maybe his parents are just dumb, or maybe they are thick-headed, or deaf. Whatever the case, they were not convinced. Jackson has been at Providence since he was in kindergarten. He is a senior this year, and it looks like he will graduate. And when he gets older, he will, like all his other brothers, thank his parents for sending him to Providence and giving him a classical, Christian education.
So, parents, this is meant to be an encouragement to you to keep the faith, especially during those middle school years. You will reap a bountiful harvest if you do not give up (Galatians 6:9). Secondly, surround yourself with other like-minded parents. We can all use the encouragement and help of one another.