7 Highly Effective Principles For Parenting Through Middle School & Adolescence

Deep breaths ... you've got this.

7 Effective Principles For Parenting Through Middle School & Adolescence Unsplash: Alexis Brown

Parenting is one of the most difficult yet rewarding jobs on the planet. As the mom of two boys, one of whom is in early adolescence, I've learned that my role as a parent primarily revolves around transformation, both in regarding to shaping and witnessing the evolution of their life skills as they grow from children to adults.

I'm also learning first-hand that many of the biggest and toughest changes for parents and teens over the course of a child's development occur the stage that begins in middle school.


Not only are there plenty of physical changes — such as the fact that my son is officially taller than me and is starting to develop a deeper voice while looking less child-like with each passing day — there are immense mental and emotional transformations going on for him as well.


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My son is growing up, becoming more independent, and doesn't need me in the same way he once did. In fact, I'm finding that he needs me both less and more now than ever before, and sometimes at the same time. This can be exhausting for both of us.

I'm discovering as I go that his own changes require me to revise how I parent him, as well as the way I view my role as his mom.

Here are seven of the most effective principles I've learned so far about parenting kids through middle school and adolescence.

1. Set reasonably high expectations.

Kids tend to rise or lower themselves to the standards set for them, and this is especially the case during adolescence. Set your expectations high, but be reasonable. Expect the best from your kids, and let them know of your expectations.


By setting high standards, you tell them that you have confidence in them and that you support them to be their best. Not only does this increase their self-confidence, but it encourages them to set high standards for themselves and helps them become comfortable with high standards in general.

2. Have clear rules and consequences.

Kids need clarity, and adolescents are especially likely to interpret ambiguous terms to their advantage when given the opportunity. Remember, they're whip smart and flexing their independence, so outline the rules clearly and in detail.

Clarity is also important when it comes to the advanced warning of the consequences that await them for breaking those rules.


In general, punishments should be reasonable and directly related to the infraction.

For example, give your child a specific time by which they need to return home instead of telling them not to stay out too late or to be back within a few hours. Don't leave it up to their interpretation. That said, arriving home 20 minutes late should receive a different level of punishment than arriving home 2 hours late.

Confusion and lack of clarity result in otherwise avoidable conflict, hurt feelings and weakened trust on both sides. If that happens, your child is likely to believe you've unfairly changed the rules on them and, understandably, resent you for it.

3. Be prepared to explain why — and do.

You may not be used to explaining the reasons behind your rules to your kids, at least not thoroughly, but that changes as they grow up. Not only do they want to know, but it's important for them to understand the "why" behind the rules you expect them to follow.


Do they want you to justify certain rules they don't like? Of course. But there's more to it than that. They're in the process of developing their own sense of right and wrong as they begin setting rules and boundaries of their own.

Offering explanations of the reasoning behind your rules is the perfect opportunity to guide and educate them toward developing a strong moral compass within themselves.

Try to be patient as your kids question and challenge you and your rules. I find that I can be a bit more patient when I remind myself of the reasons behind why I need to explain the rules more thoroughly to my son.



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4. Be their parent, not their friend.

It's tempting to want to be your child's friend as they get to this stage of life, but they don't need yet another friend. They need a parent.

This doesn't mean you can't be close, but as their parent, it's your job to do the following:

  • Speak honestly and truthfully out of love
  • Teach them that independence isn't mutually exclusive of asking for support and guidance
  • Help them develop a strong moral compass
  • Always have their back
  • Help them to figure out the right path for themselves

It's a difficult line to thread, as you don't want to be too involved, nor do you want to be too hands-off. Sometimes, you'll need to let go and let them fail, while at other times, you'll need to step in. Use your common sense.


Being their parent in an open, honest, and respectful way will garner their respect and foster a close relationship built on trust, which means they'll be more likely to come to you when they need advice, support, and guidance in the future.

5. Punish specific behaviors without relating it to their character.

Your kids will mess up. When they do, be sure not to overgeneralize or get off topic. Speak to their specific choices and the consequence of those choices.

Do they need to know they messed up? Absolutely. But that doesn't require you to go overboard, so be careful not to lecture them about every wrong they've committed when punishing them.

This doesn't mean that you shouldn't reference patterns of behavior, but stay away from expounding on a large list of unrelated infractions. Not only will they tune you out, but you'll lose their trust and kill their self-confidence.


Take care not to relate their behavior to their general character or a listing of their overall shortcomings, as doing so only creates resentment and distrust. Our kids tend to believe the labels that we give them, so try to avoid inadvertently creating negative labels for their adoption.

6. Be flexible and allow them freedom.

The point of raising a human being is to help them develop into independent adults. The only way to do that is to allow them space to explore, and that means letting go and allowing your kids more autonomy and choice over time.

Give them opportunities to rise to the occasion and earn your trust. When they earn it, expand their autonomy and responsibilities even more. This is scary, but necessary if you want them to become independent-thinking adults who can take care of themselves.


Besides, it's best to allow them the opportunity to experience this type of freedom when there's still a parental safety net to catch them if they fall.

Of course, when they violate your trust (as they certainly will), rein them in. Be clear about why you're taking their liberties away and how they can regain your trust and additional freedoms in the future.

7. Be the example.

Adolescence is a time when parents are less in control of their kids while still holding a high level of influence, and we are at our most influential when we lead through example.


Everything you say and do right now is being closely monitored and analyzed by your kids. This requires that you set high standards for yourself, and that you abide by them. It also requires your honesty at all times, as well as an apology when you mess up.

The example you set teaches your kids how to take care of themselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually, and how to deal with stress and pressure in healthy ways. They'll be watching and analyzing your habits and coping techniques, so stay mindful of your own choices.

Parenting is messy, scary, and hard.


But it's also the most rewarding and interesting job in the universe. The adolescent years will be over before you know it, and when that time arrives, you may even find yourself wishing they weren't.

So, take a deep breath and have some fun.


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Heather Moulder is a wife, mom of 2 boys, recovering attorney, cancer survivor and executive coach with Course Correction Coaching who specializes in helping female professionals and entrepreneurs gain clarity about what they want and how to get it while developing confidence and taking control over their life path in order to achieve success on their own terms. Connect with Heather and get her latest resource to help you ditch the overwhelmed, overworked lifestyle, get unstuck, and take back control.