Middle school is the start of a new era for kids. It’s all about transition. The little munchkin you used to walk to class while holding her hand is now a tween who barely mumbles “bye” while avoiding eye contact during morning drop off in the carpool line. There is so much change from elementary school to high school that it can seem daunting for both you and your middle schooler, so here are five things to know about the middle school challenges your kids (and you!) are going to face.
1Things Get Complicated
Middle school challenges start with the dozens of changes happening in your tween’s life. Their bodies are changing and they’re suddenly feeling different. That’s right. Say hello to puberty and all its moodiness. One minute they’re the happy kid you know and love, the next minute they hate the world, and tomorrow they’re going to think that all their friends hate them. To be fair, they’re going through a lot. They’re dealing with growth spurts, pimples, changing voices, periods, and hair growing in places it never has before. All that is enough to make the sweetest kid grumpy, angry, and scared sometimes.
Remember what it was like to go through this when you were a kid. Be understanding. Be there to talk to them if they need it - no matter what they want to talk about, whether it’s school, friends, their changing body, or sex - without judgment or repercussions. More importantly, make sure they know you’re there when they need to talk to someone. They are at such a fragile and impressionable age. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Leading Causes of Death Reports, in 2016 suicide was the second leading cause of death in the U.S. among the ages of 10 and 34. It is so important that they learn now that it is okay to talk about their problems and to ask for help.
2Here Comes Responsibility
Starting middle school is like entering an entirely new world. Your kids are likely at a new school with class changes and multiple teachers. More often than not, they no longer have recess. Classes get harder. As a parent, you’re not in the loop as much anymore. Teachers expect their middle school students to be responsible for themselves. They’re not going to call home when an assignment doesn’t get turned in or the first few times a student is late for class.
The amazing (or scary) thing for your middle schooler is that these years are their transition into more freedom and responsibility. Some kids are ready for it and handle it well. Other kids can barely get out the door with two shoes and their backpack every day. Be there to guide those middle schoolers who need a little extra help figuring out how to manage all this new found responsibility, but be sure not to step in and manage everything for them. That is unless you want to manage their teenage lives and their adult lives too.
3You Don’t Understand
Maybe one of the hardest middle school challenges is the fact that as your middle schooler is hitting puberty and becoming more responsible, they don’t think anyone understands what they’re going through. Their world is really changing. It’s hard and here you, their teachers, and everyone else is telling them how good they have it and how easy their life is compared to adults.
Yes, you went through this when you were their age. You can tell them this, but get ready for the “that-was-then-and-this-is-now-and-you-have-no-idea-how-hard-it-is” response. Remember that you probably told your parents the exact same thing. At the same time, things are different than the days when you were a kid. There was no social media. There was no YouTube. Heck, there was barely the internet. There weren’t all the video game systems and the online multiplayer games. So to be fair, you don’t know exactly what they’re going through. Just be there for them, listen, and remember to tell them that things will get better eventually and everything will be alright.
4Brace Yourself for Attitude
With the middle school years, you think you’ve got time before that teenage attitude kicks in. Guess again. Tweens are full of attitude, eye rolls, door slams, and even the occasional “I hate you!”. Think about it this way - remember when everyone told you about the terrible two’s when they actually should’ve warned you about the entire time your kid was a toddler? It is the same thing here. With this challenge, part of the problem for parents is that it’s going to last into high school. You’re in it for the long haul, so brace yourself. Do some yoga. Count to ten. Lock yourself in the bathroom for a nice long bubble bath. Break out a bottle of wine after your mini teen has gone to bed. And take a lot of deep breaths. You can do this!
5They Can Handle It
As scared as you are for them, and as much as you think they aren’t ready, they are. It’s not always the easiest, but your kiddo, like the many before, is going to survive these middle school years. All these years of helping with homework, teaching them to tie their shoes, reading to them at bedtime, telling them you love them, and everything else you’ve shown them by being a great parent has prepared them. It might be hard at first, but they’ll get the hang of things. They can survive these middle school challenges and so can you.
Having a middle schooler is complicated. On one hand, it’s sad to watch your little kid grow up. Gone are the days of couch snuggles and reading to them at bedtime, but, on the other hand, it’s amazing to watch your child blossom into their own person. Now you get to have conversations about how they see the world. Middle schoolers have real, informed opinions about all kinds of things. Rather than listening to a story about Paw Patrol for 30 minutes, you can talk about science, music, or current events. Not to mention, you can now watch movies that aren’t always rated G! Middle school challenges are just like any challenge. They test you for a while until either you defeat them or they defeat you. But if the toddler years didn’t defeat you, there’s no way the middle school years will either.
For more tips that may help you along the way, check out Tips for Helping Your Child Adjust to a New School.
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