This post: Middle School Kinda Sucks: How to Help Your Child Get Through These Tough Years
Written By: Marybeth Bock
Hands down, my kids’ middle school years were some of the most trying for me as a parent.
Not only is the transition from elementary to middle school a huge leap, but it also happens to be a time in our kids’ lives when they’re desperately trying to leave their “littleness” behind to make room for the grown”ish” teenager. They’re fumbling to figure out who they are, where they fall in the hierarchy of popularity (did someone say life-sucking drama??), and shuffling to fit in even if it means doing, wearing, or saying stuff that they don’t even like – all while trying to act cool.
Oh, and did I mention that they’re also dealing with unpredictable hormonal shifts and a burning desire to break free from our parental grip?
I mean, if we’re being completely honest here, tweens and teens at this age (including my own when they were 12 and 13 – sorry, guys!), can also be pretty darn annoying and rude at times.
It’s no wonder the middle school years totally suck… mainly for our kids, but also for us parents! (Ahem, can we give a BIG shoutout to all the amazing souls who spend their day teaching, coaching, and counseling middle school kids? They just might be the real MVPs!)
Middle School Kinda Sucks: How to Help Your Child Get Through These Tough Years
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So, let’s break this down into bite-sized pieces…
The REAL Reason the Middle School Years Are SO Challenging
Just a couple of years ago, your son was wearing a size 8 shoe. Now he’s wearing a size 12 shoe and you have to turn around to see who’s talking because his squeaky boy voice has been replaced with a deep man’s voice. And, with your daughter, that little girl with pigtails and a polka dot dress is gone and you now have a young lady standing in front of you.
The physical changes your kids are going through are actually pretty hard on them. They can feel discomfort (growing pains), a ton of self-consciousness, and a heaping dose of awkwardness. And it certainly doesn’t help that kids mature at very different rates and ages. Some middle schoolers look like they’re in college, while others look like 10-year-olds. Talk about feeling uncomfortable with your body image!
Brace yourself… kids at this age will experience unpredictable mood swings (it’s when parents get really good at walking on eggshells!), increased sensitivity, and (it’s scientifically proven) they feel things in a much bigger way.
They’re also trying to figure out who they are, what they believe in, and where they fit in with their friends. In fact, you might feel like you don’t know your tween or teen from one day to the next while they try on different things for size including the way they dress, talk, their activities, friends, etc. My best advice? Hang on for the bumpy ride!
BIG Social Pressures (and Conflict)
Gossip, cliques, peer pressure, fitting in, bullying, cyberbullying, drama, friend conflict, social hierarchies – they’re all heightened at the exact same time – middle school. All those intense struggles can take their toll on your child’s self-esteem and mental well-being.
It’s also important to mention that the middle school years are when the hype of grades, GPA, prepping your resume for college, and looking long-term really kicks in. Where life was easier and less stressful in elementary school, everything seems to matter in middle school
How Can You Help Your Tween or Teen Get Through These Tough Years?
Yep, middle school does kinda suck. Here’s how to help your teen get through these tough years with as few bumps and bruises as possible.
1. Talk About Friendship – Early and Often
Phyllis Fagell, LCPC, a board-certified school counselor and author of “Middle School Matters,” tells middle school students, “Only 1 percent of seventh-grade friendships are still intact in 12th grade, and more than two-thirds of friendships shift during the first year of middle school. Every single one of you is going to get rejected at some point, and it’s not because there’s something wrong with you.” It’s just a time when friendships come and go.
Stay close to your teen and navigate the turmoils of middle school together. Let them talk and vent and rant if needed, but stay level-headed and help them keep things in perspective. Not all friendships are meant to last – even those childhood friendships they thought would last forever. Help them focus on forging new friendships with kids who share the same interests.
2. Help Them Build Confidence
It can be intimidating for a middle-schooler to try out for a new sport, approach kids they don’t know, or join a club without a friend they know well. Tell your child that having the guts to try new things isn’t about being fearless; it’s about pushing full-steam ahead despite how scared they are.
Remind your kid that practically every middle schooler feels scared and awkward and that it’s all part of learning and growing. If they know it’s coming and expect it, they might be more likely to laugh off their occasional awkwardness without taking it to heart.
3. Equip Them With the Proper Tools
Help them craft a response to the kid who keeps cutting in front of them in the cafeteria line. Help them work through the drama when one of their close friends suddenly starts leaving them off the invite list. Help them muster up the courage and figure out what to say to a teacher who gave them an unfair grade.
These years are powerful learning years. Don’t let your child fend for themselves. Walk beside them and equip them with every tool you have in your toolbox to give them courage and confidence. Whether you role-play with them, brainstorm together on how to handle a situation or you’re just there to listen, your teen needs you more than you know. (Remember, it might be tempting to get involved or try to rescue your child, but parental involvement can make matters worse. Always keep your child in the loop.)
4. Focus on Their Effort
Maybe they bombed a test, got cut from a team, or got rejected when they tried to make a new friend. Emphasize the importance of trying rather than the outcome. Make sure they know that learning and growth come from putting yourself out there, giving it your best shot, AND failing. Some of our greatest lessons in life stem from our failures not “wins.”
Daniel Wong, speaker, coach, and author of the FREE E-Book, “16 Keys to Motivating Your Teenager,” says, “Encourage your teen to focus on the process of becoming more motivated and disciplined – even if they don’t achieve their goals.” For example, you might say something like, “Even though you didn’t make the team, I hope you’re proud of yourself for practicing and trying so hard. You showed a lot of determination and grit.”
5. Make Your Home a Safe Haven
When your tween or teen walks in the door after school, sports, an after-school club, or their part-time job, you might encounter a cranky kid who’s sick and tired of being “on” all day.
Things like having a supportive, loving, and harmonious home life along with a stocked fridge and the freedom to escape to their bedroom to decompress might be just what your teen needs to regroup.
6. Make Sure They Know They Can Come to You About ANYTHING
As a parent, I’ve learned that if there’s ever a time our kids will mess up (quite possibly royally), it’s in their middle school years. The pressure to fit in is a powerful force and the stakes (including homework expectations and grades) are much higher. Chances are your kid will screw up.
Just let them know you’re there, that they can come to you no matter what, that you’ll try not to overreact, and that you’ll work through anything that happens in their life together.
The middle school years can definitely be challenging, but they’re also a time of growth, self-discovery, and the development of life skills.
Providing support, open communication, and a home filled with love can help your middle schooler navigate the sucky days and develop resilience for the future.
Marybeth Bock, MPH, is Mom to two young adults and one delightful hound dog. She has logged time as a military spouse, childbirth educator, college instructor, and freelance writer. She lives in Arizona and thoroughly enjoys research and writing – as long as iced coffee is involved. Her work can be found on numerous websites and in two books. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.