Back to School: What to expect when you're expecting a middle schooler
Posted August 26, 2015
School has started again and, if Facebook is any indication, parents of elementary and high schoolers are mostly delighted by the return to routine. Conspicuously, parents of middle schoolers seem a little less enthusiastic.
There is a lot to worry about during the middle school years and parents of this age group are rightfully cautious. Co-ed parties, dating, social media, grades, peer pressure, puberty … it’s a lot! But even though middle school presents a new set of challenges, it also presents some amazing opportunities. If you’re prepared for what’s to come, it’s easier to weather the bumps without freaking out.
If you’ve got a newly minted middle schooler, here are some things you should expect:
Fear of Not Being Normal:
When everyone’s body is changing right in front of their eyes, kids spend a lot of time wondering if they are normal. You’ll notice middle schoolers play a lot with how to dress themselves, in part because they’re experimenting with style, but also because they’re experimenting with how to cover or display their changing bodies. Reassure your middle schooler often that they can’t judge what’s normal by looking at their classmates because in middle school everyone changes at a different pace, and that’s … just normal.
I call middle school the “buffet of life” because it’s when kids start trying to figure out what and who they like. To this point, they’ve largely relied on parents and teachers to fill their plates for them (by signing them up for activities, arranging play dates, etc.) but at this stage they’re ready to try making decisions on their own. They may quit an activity you thought they loved, sign up for something unexpected, dye their hair, or find a new friend group. All of this is how kids learn to establish an identity apart from their parents, as they should.
Progression, and Regression:
Middle school is a time for making huge developmental leaps, but the progress isn’t always linear. One minute you’ll be blown away by how responsible your mature young adult has become, and the next you’ll find yourself dealing with tantrums that remind you of the toddler days. Middle schoolers vacillate between being kids and being young adults with extreme and sudden swings! You see it not only in temperament but in social choices, too. Your daughter may sneak out of the house wearing eyeliner one morning and that afternoon you may catch her secretly pulling out her dolls from the back of her closet. It’s tough for kids to be caught between two worlds and it takes time to figure out the balance.
You probably already know to expect that your sweet baby, who used to worship you, will soon find you somewhere between boring and mortifying. Fair enough. You knew that one was coming. You may be surprised, though, by how much other parents will judge you, too.
Kids change at such different rates during middle school. Physically, emotionally, behaviorally, they’re all over the board. That means every parent faces unique challenges with all sorts of unknown bumps in the road, and that means parents must make very different choices for their families. You just can’t know what motivates a parent to let her kid get a smart phone early, or go to boarding school, or have a boyfriend. And frankly, it shouldn’t matter. I propose we take the advice we would give our own middle schoolers and worry a little less about what everyone else is doing. I mean, if all the parents jumped off a bridge …
Middle school can be daunting, but if we worry and complain too much it can also become a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom. Your child (and you) can have a terrific three years if you expect some challenges, but focus on the opportunities.
Michelle Icard is the author of Middle School Makeover: Improving The Way You and Your Child Experience Middle School.