Welcome to middle school. The younglings are becoming little adults – middle schoolers are not as cute as children or as fascinating as teens, says Madeline Levin, author of Teach Your Children Well. Welcome to acne too! We’re talking about the ages of 11-14 as kids try to adjust to their growing body and the social dynamic now happening in the school lunchroom.
Some kids mature faster than others – you can take two 13-year-olds, one will look like he’s still ready for story time at the bookstore, the other looks like he could drive the first one there. It’s a confusing time for both kids and parents.
At home, power struggles form where compliance once reigned, but this is an important time as kids take in many of their most important information on issues, during their “tween” years.
Levine says that most children will come to you when they are ready for information so she recommends that you be ready (Levine 102), but don’t push the subject – kind of like Top Gun – don’t push a bad position – select zone 5, extend and escape. But when its time to engage, remember that your child will get the 411 on sex, drugs, smoking and health (eating disorders anyone) from someone – better that its you rather than their equally unqualified friends. Levine recommends:
- Using “how” questions, rather than “why,” which carries defensive connotations, as in “how did Juno decide what to do when she found out she was pregnant?” (Levine 102)
- Don’t impute feelings – “you must be worried that the other boys look different than you.” (Nothing like a good presupposition to get things on the right foot – is there an emoticon for sarcasm?)
- Extracurricular activities are important, but be sure not to over schedule (Levine 112)
- Temper the media imagery of the perfect girl or boy – remind them not to compete with celebs and the power of Photoshop
- Teach good nutrition and model it at home; take weight grain with a grain of reality: “yes, your body is changing, you’re becoming a man (or a woman).
- Daughters still want to hear that their dad thinks they are pretty (Levine 118). I personally believe that boys still want to hear from their fathers that they are wild men, they are dangerous and a force to be reckoned with.
Finally, Levine notes that its at this stage where kids will push for even more independence. She recommends that this surge be watched because the impulse control and judgment are not fully functional skills yet in a tween. Respect your child’s privacy, don’t sweat the small stuff, provide opportunities for them to become more independent and do not back off from the monitoring that is critical for safety (Levine 128).
Tolerate irritability and crabbiness, but not disrespect (Levine 129) and remember that rolled eyes is both a declaration of independence, but also a test to make sure you still care. Help your kids get into good peer groups – tween peer groups should not include high school kids either. Typically, kids (like adults) will seek out peers that are like them (which is called ‘selection’), but when kids influence each other to become more similar, it’s called ‘socialization.’ Now is the time to make sure that your kids’ peer group is one whose values more closely align with yours.
Levine, Madeline. Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success. New York: Harper, 2012. Print.