by Colleen Langenfeld
Are you singing the Middle School Blues?
If you have a son or daughter in the sixth, seventh or eighth grade, you know what I am talking about!
The middle school years are tough on adolescents, and by extension, can also be rough on the whole family. Having guided two sons through those murky waters a few years back and now watching a daughter emerge from this age, I have learned a thing or two about the Middle School Blues. Here are some of my insights:
-- Long-term perspective. Middle Schoolers don't have any. And they really need some. So it's up to us as the adults in their lives to give them a glimpse of what long-term perspective can mean. This includes ideas such as "this too will pass, it just may take a little time" and the sure knowledge that they will continue to grow and change ("do you see things any differently now at 13 than you did at 10? Yes? Then you can understand that you will probably also see things differently at 16.").
-- Vulnerable is not cool. Embarrassment often tops the list of most feared events in a Middle Schooler's life. The problem, of course, is that in this in-between stage of life, lots of seemingly embarrassing moments pop up. It's hard to appear cool, calm and confident when life seems so unpredictable. One minute your friends seem to let you down, the next moment it's your own body running for cover. And parents want to TALK about these things! Yikes!
The key here is relationship. It's tough to have a heart-to-heart when you've never even discussed a particular topic before. Learn to simply chat about sensitive topics on a regular basis. At first, it's hard for everyone, but as time goes on, people relax and trust develops. Use a TV show, a song on the radio, or a current event as a springboard for casual conversation snippets. Ask what your young adult thinks and then really listen. You might be surprised with the comments and questions that start coming up.
-- Hug. A lot. I don't care what they say. Middle Schoolers want hugs. They want affection, attention and tons of it. In addition, they want it mainly from their folks. You see, as their parents, we're the ones who know that deep down inside, they're okay. They, however, are VERY unsure of that fact. Until our kids can believe it for themselves, they need us to believe it for them. And show them. Daily.
-- Stand firm. There's an oft-quoted statement that goes something like this: parenting a teenager is like trying to nail gelatin to a tree. Middle schoolers are like gelatin that isn't quite firm yet. So you, Mom or Dad, must be the glue that helps your youngster 'stick' together. Most young teens and preteens simply don't have the maturity or skills to put in place the boundaries they need. They desperately crave SOMEONE to know what's going on and place secure fences around them and their activities. Of course, admitting this is not cool (remember, vulnerability is bad) so they need to present themselves as totally in control of their situations. But if you are working at relationship with them, you might hear them confide from time to time that their feelings inside don't even begin to match up with what they feel they need to show the world. Oops. Sounds like it's time for another hug.
-- Think tools. Middle Schoolers rarely enjoy lectures. (Hint: they tend to hear many 'conversations' as lectures.) As a parent, you want to keep the walls down and the communication lines wide open. Consider offering your parenting advice in the form of 'tools'. Let your young adult know that everybody needs a well-stocked toolkit in the game of life. Self-discipline, kindness, listening skills, values, etc., are actually much-needed tools that the smart adult learns to use with skill. Role-play with them to demonstrate usage. This will take practice, but is worth the effort, just like playing a musical instrument or learning a new sport. (After all, they want to be a suave teenager, right?)
Your Middle Schooler is on a wonderful adventure that will lead them from childhood into the beginnings of adulthood. But the way is unfamiliar as well as unsettling. They need a guide who cares deeply about them, has confidence in them, and can see farther then they can.
Just don't forget the hugs!
Colleen Langenfeld offers helpful resources to working moms. Make your life feel easier, healthier, smarter by reading our One Good Idea ezine. Start by visiting http://www.paintedgold.com and clicking on the happy kids' picture now!