Seventh Grade, man…*sigh* Where do I begin? I’m not too old to remember that middle school can be a really rough time in a kid’s life. So many things changing all at once: your body, your brain, your global perspective…your mounting stack of homework.
Between innocence and maturity, there seems to be a minefield of awkwardness and social angst, known affectionately as the middle school years.
Image is suddenly everything. If you don’t have the right duds or tech, you’re out. And what happened to all your friends? Some of them matured long before you (or after), others found new hobbies or friends and you drifted apart. If your kid happens to have any kind of academic difficulty or attention issues, consider the anxiety and stress they’re already experiencing amped up exponentially. (Yaaay.)
My 13-year-old daughter and I were at her annual checkup a few months ago and the doctor made conversation by asking if she was enjoying the seventh grade. Clearly expecting an affirmative response, he was dumbstruck when my daughter simply replied, “Nope.” He glanced over to me, expecting me to be as surprised as he was, or at least give him some kind of clue – was she just messing around? I laughed and added, “I mean, I don’t blame her. Middle school is the worst.”
Honest moment, right? My life is filled with them.
He seemed even more taken aback that I would agree with her – which demonstrates the fact that not everyone experiences the “dark side” of middle school, or at least they have a very poor memory of it. But you know what? It’s hard!
It’s hard to go through puberty and not recognize your own body or feel the ups and downs of hormone surges, which can sometimes trigger anxiety and depression.
It’s hard to learn that the kids you went to grade school with might not be such great friends after all – in fact, they might be a bit cliquey and backbiting (particularly true for girls, in my experience).
It’s hard to deal with questions of your own sexuality, which is true for many at this age.
And it’s just hard to realize that all those easy-going years of playing in the dirt and picking daisies are behind you and adult responsibility lies before you, just over the horizon.
Whether these are conscious thoughts or not, they’re the stuff of nightmares for middle schoolers.
But there is hope…enter the parents.
We get to see the bigger picture and can offer some perspective into their hormone-driven lives. We have an opportunity to serve as a constant when they need one most.
But how do we help them find their due north when they’re going through that infamous phase where parents seem to become the enemy?
Whether they’re crumbling in front of us over a missing hoodie or feeling all alone in the world, we have a chance to see them through it. The counterintuitive part is that we won’t typically get through to them by reciting our vast experience with such matters (big or small). Kids are sharp. Middle schoolers are sharper, and slower to forgive our transgressions. A disapproving raised eyebrow is not lost on them, let alone a lengthy lecture; and trust levels diminish the more we display our disapproval over our genuine curiosity and care.
So how can you keep the communication lines open?
One thing you can start with is asking curiosity-based questions and just…listening. Fix your face. Just listen. If they ask for it, tell them what you know; but try not to lead with advice. They want to know you hear them first and foremost.
Kids are starting to look for autonomy at this age, so offer some! Ask them to help you find ways to be a better community as a family and find the win-wins.
Create spaces where good change can blossom and keep those lines of communication open. It’s more important than being right or having order. The last thing you want to do when they’re going through this crazy time is close the door on their worries, their fears, their plans, and their dreams just because they can’t seem to find a way to express themselves with you and you can’t seem to do anything but express yourself.
I promise your kids are not the first to go through this – and neither are you.
When you’re transparent and really listening to what your kids have to say without judgment, you’re serving parenting ace serves to those kiddos; and they will thank you for it…someday. For now, let’s concentrate on getting them through middle school, shall we?