“I hate middle school,” a friend recently texted, asking for advice and prayer in a difficult moment. I knew those moments all too well. Our kids are three years apart, so we have a revolving door of middle schoolers, one leaving while another is entering. During these yeas, we hear a lot of:
“Mom, I know.” (Emphasis on KNOW, complete with eye-roll),
“Why does he get to do that? I didn’t get to do that when I was that age.”
“You don’t need to tell me!”
“You don’t understand!”
Navigating middle school is scary for parents and child. Kids are trying to break free, be independent, while everything around them is quickly changing. They’re trying to find their identity. Hormones are raging. Caution signs flash everywhere for good reason. While they’re pushing you away faster than you want them to, they still need and want you.
As a teacher and counselor, I’ve seen many teens form their identity around unhealthy peer groups or engage in dangerous behavior because the struggle for identity is so great. Navigating your child through this time can be tiring – having one hand on them while also letting go. It’s a fine line, and sometimes you don’t know where the line is.
Hind sight is better than foresight. I’m glad we’ve made it through the middle school years with three out of our four kids. We’ve learned a lot the hard way. But I can’t vacation yet. Each child is different and knowing what each one needs at various developmental stages is a big job. It requires knowing a child’s “bents.” It requires patience and perseverance. It requires loving them when they are least lovable.
Some things I’ve learned along the middle school journey that have been “tested and proved”:
- Give teens space when they ask for it. It’s one of the ways they feel heard and understood, even in a heated moment. It builds parental credibility in the eyes of your middle schooler, and develops trust when they decide to open up to you, on their time.
- Understand teen words are part of their development. “You don’t understand” and “You don’t know anything” was offensive to me the first round and I fought against it. But understanding it’s part of the process of kids figuring out their identity and separating from mom and dad helps in hearing it the second, third and fourth times.
- Give kids opportunities to excel. Middle School is a place where kids need to build confidence in some area. Finding their gifts and interests and making time to get them involved in those activities is important. You may need to look outside what their school offers. Building their confidence while building friendships with other kids with their area of interest is essential.
- Let your child feel special and unique. When you’re with your child one-on-one, tell them things about themselves that make them different from their siblings. I’ve put this into practice with all of our kids, acknowledging their differences while celebrating their uniqueness, letting them know their special place of honor.
When our children were young, I bought them each a book unique to their place in the family. For one child, I bought the book, “I Love You the Purplest” by Barbara Joosse. It’s about a mom who sees a competitive spirit between her boys. She explains to each son how she loves them as individuals for their unique characteristics. She whispers in their ears the way she sees them in their own special way.
For middle school teens, this is the secret message each one needs to hear.
- They are understood.
- They are seen.
- They are known.
- They are loved for who they are.
Middle school years can be the worst of times, but also the best of times as kids gain the strength, confidence, and courage in their own identity. How have you helped your middle-schooler through these years? What do you remember from your own experience that would help today’s parents? We’d love to hear from you!
“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Prov. 22:6 (NIV)
Father, will you allow each parent reading this today to be filled with your grace and strength to know each of their children in their uniqueness? Will you fill each one with wisdom, strength and balance to parent during this exasperating years. Thank you that your grace is sufficient for all these needs. Amen.