Summer always seems to go by too fast. As we think about heading back to school, I always pause and ponder what the year ahead will bring for each of my children. What new challenges, changes, and adventures will they encounter? This year I am especially reflective because our oldest daughter will officially be in middle school. As I think and read about all the changes that will happen to her body and her emotions topped with influences from technology and peers, I get a pit in my stomach. Like the feeling on a roller coaster right before you are about to go straight down — it is exciting and totally nerve-wracking at the same time.
The most interesting research I recently read was that children between 12–15 years old will go through the same amount of change as they did from the time they were born until 3 years old — that is a lot of change. I look back at my own middle-school experience and want to protect our daughter from all the mean comments and awkward moments but know this is part of life, and she will learn to weather the good along with the bad. Here are some tips I will try to remember for the start of this new adventure.
BE A PARENT NOT A FRIEND
I can still hear my mom telling me growing up, “I’m your parent, not your friend.” Although they may not admit it or show it, children this age need their parents more than ever. They are still looking to us to set boundaries and clear limits. They may not like them and may try to push them, but it is our job to provide them.
They are also looking to us to be role models, not their confidantes. For example, if your child is having an issue with a friend, instead of bad-mouthing the friend, take the role of parent and offer suggestions for how to resolve the conflict or ways to handle the situation. At this age, kids will want to spend more time with their friends, and will most likely confide in them a lot more than they do in you, but when a problem arises, it is you they will come to and look to for support and guidance.
These middle school years can be a time when our children are seeking more responsibility and independence and are pushing back on our involvement in their lives, but this isn’t the time to take a backseat on parenting. Find a balance between situations you need to get involved with and situations you want them to navigate on their own — for both academic and social situations. Make time to regularly check in about school, activities, and friends. They may not need us to check their homework anymore, but make sure they know you are still playing an active role in their education by attending parent-teacher conferences, back-to-school nights, and class meetings. Socially, our children may be arranging their own plans and sleepovers, but be certain you still check in with the other parents to confirm they will be home and are also aware of the plans.
LET GO A LITTLE
This may seem like a contradiction to the tip above, but it really isn’t. As much as we need to stay involved, we also need to let go and give our children a chance to experience some added responsibility and independence. Talk to your children about what this means for your family. Is this the year you let them start walking home from school or meeting friends for ice cream on weekends? Maybe they are given added responsibility by watching a younger sibling at home alone for a short period of time. These baby steps will make them feel a little more grown up and will give you a chance to try out your comfort level with some of their newfound freedom.
Children also may be looking for other ways to exert their independence such as in clothes and music. My best advice here is to pick your battles wisely. If there is a clothing brand or a certain clothing style my daughter has her heart set on that I am not a fan of, then we agree she will buy it with her own money — unless it is completely unacceptable. As far as music goes, take time to listen to it together and show an interest in some of their newfound interests as well.
Last, as we help our children navigate this time, the most important thing we can instill and constantly reinforce is respect — respect for teachers, parents, and peers. This virtue seems harder to come by today, but is needed more than ever. It is something they will need for themselves and their changing bodies, in school when dealing with teachers, and with every cell phone and computer interaction, especially social media. So embrace the change. There will be moments of feeling like you are dealing with an entirely different person than the one you raised for the last 12 years, but rest assured these moments will pass, so try to enjoy the ride.