I always thought parenting would get easier as the kiddos got older. I was so very wrong. I have one child in junior high and one in elementary school and the challenges never seem to stop. It is difficult to watch as your children struggle, and middle school can slam kids with challenge after challenge on a daily basis. Middle school success is possible, though. I have worked as a junior high teacher, middle school Sunday School teacher, substitute teacher, and scout leader, and I learned a few things along the way. Here are six easy tips that can help your middle-schooler be more successful.
6 Tips for Middle School Success
Drop your middle-schooler off at school as early as possible. I started dropping my son off at school early after reading the tip in a book. I had been dropping him off about 5 minutes before he had to be to class. However, the school allows him to be there 20 minutes early. The idea behind the earlier drop off is that if they have extra time, they will be able to make it to their lockers, say hello to friends, and shift into school-mode before the first bell rings. I implemented this change without telling my son I was doing it or giving him any reason for it. As far as he knew, we were just getting to school earlier. After a couple of weeks I asked him if the earlier drop off time had helped him, and he said it had helped tremendously. Of course, you may not be the one who takes your child to school, but this idea can be used outside of school as well. Make sure you give your middle-schooler time to transisiton before school, youth group, church, and where appropriate.
Have your middle-schooler repeat instructions. There is a lot of truth to the stereotype that middle-school kids only hear part of what you say. As a former eighth-grade teacher, I can attest to this. One way to avoid miscommunication and misunderstanding is to have your son or daughter repeat instructions back to you. This helps in more than one way. Repeating instructions helps you ensure that your child heard them, but knowing you often require repeated directions also helps train your child to listen closely.
Limit their screen-time. Experts seem to agree that too much screen-time is detrimental to kids. I don’t need experts to tell me that, though. I have seen it in my own children and in my students. I imagine you have as well. Implementing a punch card system and using an app have worked well for us. I love the DinnerTime Plus app because it is free and it allows me to monitor use, set time limits, and turn the phones off. My kiddos get roughly 5-8 hours of screen-time a week, not counting family movie nights. That is a lot lower than most of their friends, but I am fine with that!
Explain that awkwardness and middle-school go hand-in-hand. I have worked with a lot of middle-schoolers in my life and a common thread in most situations was feeling awkward or like they did not fit in with their peers. I have had kids tell me they thought they were ugly, weird, awkward, insufficient, and just different. These kids were not the attention seeking kind, they were just like we were in middle school. When I think back to junior high school, I remember a time filled with self-doubt, self-loathing, and angst. I truly believe that we help our kids when we share our own negative experiences. Too many kids believe that they are alone in their self-perceived suffering. I wish more of them understood that this is a passing time which, more often than not, is downright difficult. Open up to them and let them know the struggle is real, but it is also common.
Listen to them. One mistake I have seen many parents make is not adjusting their parenting as their children grow and mature. You might want your four-year-old to obey right away without question, but does that make sense 100 percent of the time with a teenager? I want my son to be obedient, but I also want him to be able to problem solve, think critically, make decisions independently, and disagree respectfully. That last item might rub you the wrong way, but I believe it is a vital skill best learned at home. My son is only 13, but there are already topics he knows more about than I do. If we are working in the garden and I tell him to squash a bug, he might respond by explaining to me that the bug is actually beneficial to the garden. I might still want the bug gone, but I allow him to make his case, possibly changing my mind. I know far too many parents who demand first time obedience from teens at all times. I am thankful that my own mother allowed me to develop critical thinking skills and the ability to think my way through situations.
Encourage them daily. Do not give your middle-schooler false praise; they are too smart for phoniness. Instead, offer your son or daughter daily encouragement. If they have a success, praise it. If they have a failure, let them know they can try again. Tell them to have a good day and encourage them to look for positives. When they struggle, remind them that struggles make us stronger and tell them you believe in them. Make sure they know you are on their team, even when you are struggling to get along.
I hope something on this list has resonated with you. If you disagree with something here, that is fine. There is plenty of room for differences in parenting styles between friends. Parenting tweens and teens can be difficult. Let us build each other up in love.