Middle School. These two words often elicit a cringe, a shudder, maybe even an eye roll. Whether this response is caused by remembering our own middle school years or thinking about our own children reaching this dreaded time, it is a common perception. I have spent the majority of my days the past eleven years as a middle school teacher and when people find this out I usually get one of the responses described above. Yes, middle school students have a lot of attitude and can be challenging at times, but they also have a lot of heart, a lot of passion, and are at such a formative age that I really do love this age group. I sometimes think about my daughters reaching this stage in life and I know it has the potential to be full of drama and trying experiences, slamming doors, eye rolls, and tears. My hope, however, is that my experience as a teacher will somehow pay off and aide in my ability to guide my own children through these years. As a teacher, here are my top 5 pieces of advice for surviving middle school:
1. Be present. Sometimes we think our job might be done or easier once we do not have little ones under foot, but those teenagers will need us just as much. Kids can sense when their parents aren’t interested and have stepped back. They want attention, especially from you. If they don’t get it from you they will look elsewhere and those other places may not be where you want them to be.
2. Know their friends. There have been many times that I have looked at the students in my class and see who they hang out with and the influence they have on each other and think, “Their parents have no idea this is who they are friends with.” Peer pressure is powerful and the influence of friends is inevitable and strong. I have seen straight A students slip to C or D students because the people they surround themselves with don’t think it’s cool to be smart. It happens and it’s worth it to know who is influencing your child.
3. Know their teachers (and their grades). As a teacher I spend a significant amount of time with my students each week. I cannot encourage parents enough to know the people your child is spending their days with. I hear their conversations, I know who their friends are, I know how well they focus, and the grades they are achieving. If you have concerns about your child or you just want to check in and see how they are doing, get in touch with their teachers. Teachers care a whole lot and they want to help.
4. Monitor their social media accounts and their phone. Teenagers love their phones. In fact, I do a project every year that involves students talking about objects that are important to them and represent them. It never fails, a significant portion always ask to use their phones. To them it goes beyond the technology and their phone is one of their most prized possessions. With that comes the world of social media. I have seen students suspended (or worse) for pictures on their phones. Others are not shy about boasting the number of friends or followers they have, some of which they do not even know. It is scary to think that kids are communicating with strangers and sharing photos for public consumption without a second thought. Talk to your teenager about this, look at their phones, and keep communication open, their safety depends on it.
5. Discipline your teen. Your teenager still needs discipline, and chances are they still need a lot of it. Discipline does not end when you child reaches middle school. As a parent I understand the extreme love you have for your child and also that sometimes this unconditional love may cause us to think our children can do no wrong. Teens need boundaries and expectations. I have high expectations for my students, not only for their work but for their behavior as well. They don’t always like it, but I am not there to be their friend. I have found more times than not that students rise to the challenge and meet or exceed those expectations. Setting clear boundaries for your teen can be so beneficial for them and for you.
What other pieces of advice do you have for parents that are in the trenches of those teenage years?