Middle school can be a jarring transition from the innocence of childhood to the harsh realities of adolescence. So, how can parents prepare their kids for the coming change? In this article, I’ll coach parents on what to expect during those turbulent middle school years.
#1. For Many Kids, Middle School is When Things Go Downhill
I hear it so often—“I started using drugs, drinking, cutting, etcetera in middle school.” Things may go “downhill” for kids in middle school for several reasons. Their brains are changing from concrete to abstract thinking. That means they will start questioning a lot more about their life, their world, and what their parents believe. At the same time, their world gets bigger. There are more social and cultural pressures targeting middle schoolers than ever before and they are especially influenced by the world around them. While they have access to more information, they do not yet have the experience or maturity to discern what is appropriate for their young minds and hearts.
#2. Friends Are Very Important to Your Middle Schooler
Everyone wants to feel loved and accepted. This normal desire amplifies the influence that other middle schoolers have on your child, and some of your middle schooler’s friends can lead your kid where he doesn’t want to go. It’s possible that your middle schooler is being exposed to things he might not have experienced without these friends. As parents, you will need to find the right balance between protecting your pre-teen, exposing your teen, and preparing your teen for the world around them.
#3. Decisions Made in Middle School Get Magnified in High School
If your child is making poor decisions and spending time with the wrong crowd in middle school, it’s likely that these problems will get worse in high school—unless you step in to make a change. If nothing is done to change your child’s trajectory, he may end up in the same inappropriate activities in high school but worse. Experiments with drugs in middle school could turn into addictions in high school. Inappropriate interactions with the opposite sex in middle school can escalate. Don’t assume that these problems will go away on their own.
#4. Your Kid Needs You (Even if it Doesn’t Seem Like It)
Your middle schooler may not say it directly to you, in fact he may not say much at all, but he loves you and craves your attention. Don’t let his mood swings or harsh words keep you from offering love, encouragement, wisdom, and rest from the outside world. It’s so important for parents to build a closer relationship throughout the middle school years. Make it a priority to stay connected and find out what your kid is being exposed to. Set aside a regular time to be together, talk, and ask questions. As you listen to your middle schooler, you’ll discover what’s on his heart and in his mind, and what his friends are focused on.
How You Can Help Your Middle Schooler Right Now
Pay attention to your middle schooler. Many parents back off when their kids reach middle school. Your pre-teen wants more independence, but he doesn’t want to be ignored. Now is the time to lean into the relationship. When you talk, listen to your child. Spend less time giving your opinion. Instead ask him questions and value his answers. Your job is to help your child think through and clarify his own thoughts, as you gently guide him.
Have realistic expectations for your child. No one is perfect. Your child is growing, changing, and trying new things and that mean he will make mistakes. When he does, be quick to offer forgiveness and grace. Come alongside your kid, as she tries again. And most importantly, communicate your unconditional love over and over again. Let your kid know that there is nothing he can do to make you love him more and nothing he can do to make you love him less.
Hey moms and dads … the middle school years are a tough time to endure. Our little boys become tough guys and our girls enter into their drama queen years. They’re no longer little kids, but they don’t have the maturity or good sense to be a big kid, either. These years are not for the weak at heart. It’s going to take a lot of work to keep your soon-to-be teen focused, and out of trouble, during this highly influential time. It’s going to take even more work for you to shift your parenting style to accommodate the new needs and influences that your middle schooler will experience. It’s not a time to let go, but a time to focus on preparing your child for the world that they’re going to live. So pour your life into your middle schooler and commit to be an active participant in helping them get through these difficult years.