Middle School. These two words can evoke a visceral reaction in many adults, especially those who had less-than-wonderful memories from those days. I cannot promise that this article will make the sting less painful for you or your child. What I can promise is that you are not alone. There are so many parents who have experienced middle school through the eyes of their own children that are empathetic to what you have been through or will experience.
While my middle school years were not without drama, middle school is my jam! I chose to serve as a middle school teacher for 10 years, and then went even further and became a middle school assistant principal! Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment, but middle school is such a weird and wonderful time in a child’s life—especially if they make the most of their experiences (both the good and bad ones)!
Middle school is not easy. The academics are more challenging. The hormones are ripe. (Buy your sixth-grade student deodorant, please and thank you!) The experiences are daunting. And then, add social media to the mix so that every detail of every day can be relived, shared, and taken out of context on multiple platforms. Fun, right?
Be A Support, Not Their Voice.
Children must learn from their mistakes. Failure is OKAY; learning how to cope with and learn from failure is necessary! Be there for your child when they fail. Let them express their feelings. Hold them accountable. And allow them the grace to move forward. If we guard and dictate every move and decision our children make, we will never allow them the opportunity to identify their own strengths. It is heartbreaking when our children make bad choices, but, sometimes it is necessary for them to learn on their own and for us to simply provide unconditional love and support. Advocate for your child, but provide room for them to make some decisions on their own.
Hold Children Accountable.
If (and when) your child makes mistakes, hold them accountable. As parents, we provide our children guidance, rules, and structure to allow them to one day be able to make independent decisions. Hopefully, those decisions will align with the good choices you have drilled into them, but they probably won’t always. And when that time comes, we must hold our children accountable. We cannot just say, “Oh, they are such knuckleheads! I’m gonna get them when they get home!” We must use appropriate consequences at home so they are prepared for consequences that will await them in the real world when bad decisions are made.
Mean People Exist. Period.
Some people just are not nice. Mean people come in all shapes, sizes, and ages. And your child needs to know that kids who were not nice in elementary school may not change their ways in middle school. Your child can still be kind. If your child was labeled as the “mean kid,” there are opportunities for them to create a new label. Actions speak volumes.
Find Your People.
Frequently, I will hear parents say that their child is lonely because they grew apart from their elementary-aged friends once they started middle school. This is quite common, and, often, the most heartbreaking part about middle school. There are so many changes during adolescence, and losing a friend of five years is a huge (and difficult) adjustment. Before the school year begins, reach out to the guidance counselor or school personnel for extracurricular opportunities that the school offers. Allow your child to identify activities that are of interest to them.
Help Your Child Identify Their Interests.
When my son started middle school, joining an extra-curricular was not an option; however, he was able to choose which one, whether through school or through a community organization. Every school is different, but most schools have opportunities that are open to any student with no auditions or elections required. My son chose to participate in the student council as a sixth grader. This allowed him an opportunity to meet more people and have a voice in student-led events throughout the year. The following year, he was able to participate in additional extra-curriculars like peer helper, yearbook, and the tennis team.
*It is important to note that you know your child best, and you know their limits. If your child is unsure if a club will fit into their lifestyle and needs, it is best for them to speak with the school counselor or the club sponsor before committing.
To Tech or Not to Tech?
This is a tricky decision and truly one that needs to be made by parents. But, as someone who has seen more than their fair share of kids using technology inappropriately, you should not assume your child is using it appropriately. They will text something that was meant to be funny but could be seen as threatening or mean. They will be exposed to things that you were not expecting or prepared for. Also, they will have an opportunity to post or share something that they may regret later in life. My advice is to not let your guard down. Check their device regularly, whether through an app or just by going directly into the device. Share stories often with them about real-life events involving consequences for inappropriate use of technology. As a school administrator, I have dealt with everything from sixth graders sending and/or receiving graphic/ explicit images to students taking photos of their peers using the restroom to adults having inappropriate conversations with children. It is heavy. And it is happening even in the sweetest communities with the best families. There are plenty of reasons to have technology, especially in middle school, just be prepared to have tough conversations and set strong standards and guidelines for use.