Middle school students are a different creature. It’s like they hatched from an alien planet. Your sweet, relatively normal child has morphed into a hormone-filled teenager who can be surly, cranky, full of attitude, and downright crazy.
When I was a middle school teacher, I loved those zany kids. It was like trying to keep puppies in a box. You’d put one back in and two others would escape. It was a never-ending cycle of interaction and maintenance. I’m an elementary-trained educator, but I discovered teenagers really aren’t much different than elementary kids. I treasured them for their creativity, sense of humor, and understanding of sarcasm. We had fun, but we certainly had our challenges.
If you are in the throes of raising a middle schooler, I thought you might benefit from a few tips on dealing with and understanding them from my seventeen years of teaching 6th, 7th and 8th graders.
1. Their number one need is to feel heard. They will respond with respect if they believe they are being treated with respect.
2. They crave freedom and want parents to understand they aren’t a child anymore. They still need boundaries, but the fence line can be expanded a bit to demonstrate trust.
3. Due to rapid physical growth, raging hormones, and overwhelming neurological changes, sometimes they can barely function. Their frontal lobe is not fully developed, so thinking and decision making are not always the best. Don’t even hope for impulse control until they reach their 20’s.
4. Because of the variety of hormones and crazy emotions, they will only retain about 30 percent of what they learn in middle school. But this season is one of the most vital as they mature into full-fledged young adults.
5. Peer approval is a necessity. Just one cross word or a feeling that someone doesn’t like them can shut them down for hours. In this stage of life, they become self-aware and self-conscious. Middle schoolers are desperately trying to fit in and find their tribe.
6. Girls and boys react very differently. Girls will hold a grudge for weeks. Every day is a new adventure to boys. They forget and move on.
7. Their world usually revolves around social interaction, and their friends are most important to them. That’s why their phones are their lifeline. They can stay informed of all that’s happening.
8. They move through the middle school years at different stages and timing. Some mature earlier, in 6th grade, and others take all the way to the second semester of 8th grade.
9. They will stop talking to you and withdraw often to their rooms. It’s okay. It doesn’t indicate anything is wrong or they are angry with you. They just need time in their cave.
10. Even if it seems they don’t want to spend time with you, they do enjoy having fun with you. Find opportunities for enjoyment or entertainment, as it allows a point of contact and communication.
11. Teenagers want to see you being authentic and real. Engage in deep, serious conversations that aren’t a lecture.
This phase of your child’s development requires incredible grace and mercy. The uniqueness of their physical and mental growth doesn’t mean you give in and allow them to act poorly or disrespectfully. Set those boundaries and love them unconditionally. There will be occasions where you both might need some space. Use your sense of humor because they are funny and love to laugh and joke.
But sometimes, you just have to shake your head, seal your lips, and realize you both will survive this season. Godspeed, Momma!