Know the difference between true middle school concerns and normal but unsettling pre-teen behaviors
Middle school can be a terribly stressful time both for parents and for the child attending middle school. There’s a lot of things that parents are told to watch out for in middle school and I think it might be easy to get too worried and to miss out on things that may be more important for your middle school student. So here are three things that you may be able to cross off of your worry list.
1) They may switch friend groups and they may do so a few times. I remember when my oldest was in middle school and I suddenly noticed that two of my favorite friends of his weren’t coming over anymore. When I asked him the 2,000 questions that I often do he answered with a simple, “Mom, there’s nothing wrong we just don’t hang out anymore.” I was sure that there was some deep dark problem with either these boys or my son but hindsight has shown me that they were all just fine and have grown to be wonderful humans who just don’t hang out with each other.
The same thing happened with my daughter and now my middle school aged son. Friends and interests change and that’s usually ok. Some friends may stay around but others may not and as a parent your best bet is to stay calm through this process. If your child seems relatively happy, has no major change in grades, appetite, sleep, or behavior, all is most likely well. If your child is sad and not making new friends, that may be an area of concern to watch for or to explore in more depth.
2) They are likely to Google some version of “sex” or try to find pictures of said act on the Internet. Remember when you and your friends found your dad’s Playboy magazines or your mom’s “grown-up” novels? The Internet is your child’s version of that. Unfortunately, it’s a much more hazardous playground with imagery that middle school children should not be privy to. Here’s the deal, you need to make sure you have some form of blocks on your computers and their hand held devices but don’t freak out if your child seeks out sexual images.
There is no reason to believe that sexual curiosity is anything but that at this age. Things get problematic if your child has constant access to pornography either in your home or a friend’s home and if you see signs that they may be addicted to these images. It’s your job to keep your home as secure as possible but it’s also your child’s job to be curious. Healthy, frank sexual conversation is the best way to curb some of that curiosity rather than holding it out as enticing forbidden fruit.
3) They may have absolutely no motivation to do well in school. I’m always surprised when middle school parents tell me that they are shocked that their child isn’t motivated to learn more and get perfect grades. Seriously? Were you ever in middle school yourself? It’s a lion’s den of hormones, acne, bad teeth, the opposite sex, and teen-age angst. Who has time to be motivated and focused on grades? This doesn’t mean you can’t lay out some minimal expectations for your middle school student but to try and force them to be excited and motivated? Have you ever tried to talk a toddler out of a temper tantrum? Same concept.
Set academic minimums, follow through, have appropriate rewards and consequences, follow through again, and then move on. Don’t waste your breath on trying to connect middle school grades with future success. First, your kids are smarter than that and second; you’re doomed to fail. If their grades drop dramatically, take note of that in that may be a reflection of something else that needs to be addressed.
There are a lot of things to worry about in middle school; bullying, sexual activity, drug and alcohol use, self-esteem, and healthy friend groups. I’m not a fan of worrying either way but I think it’s important for parents to keep their eyes open and step in when necessary especially while kids are still young enough for you to do so.
If you are struggling with the middle school years, join me and Leslie Ferris for our 3-part teleclass, Middle School: Nice or Nightmare. Here’s the link: http://smartwomeninspiredlives.com/middleschool/
Lisa Kaplin is a psychologist and life coach at www.smartwomeinspiredlives.com
You can reach her at Lisa@smartwomeninspiredlives.com