This post: It’s Time to Step Back: 3 Ways to Foster Your Middle Schooler’s Independence
Written by: Ali Flynn
As a former seventh-grade English teacher and now a mom to four teenagers, I’ve witnessed, first-hand, the astounding physical, emotional and cognitive transformation teens go through – even within one school year.
My students entered the classroom in September one person and left as another in June. Not only did they grow by leaps and bounds physically, they also grew emotionally. Despite their raging hormones and more than a few days filled with chaos and drama, they became more articulate, developed more self-control over their emotions and many gained a lot of self-confidence.
As a teacher and as a parent, I realized that a lot of the struggles my students were dealing with mirrored my own kid’s struggles. Every teenager regardless of whether they’re 13 or 18 is on a mission to become more independent and figure out who they are. They’re pulling away from their parents, not because they don’t love them, but because they inherently know it’s time to detach and become their own person – not who their parents want them to become.
Letting go is hard, I know. But we’re doing our kids a huge disservice if we don’t back off a bit and give them plenty of room to grow. And, considering the stakes are raised even higher in high school, middle school is the perfect time to loosen your grip on your teenager.
Here are a few things you can do to set your teen up for success in middle school, high school and beyond.
It’s Time to Step Back: 3 Ways to Foster Your Middle Schooler’s Independence
1. Don’t Hover Over Your Middle Schooler’s Academic Life
To foster your middle schooler’s independence, they need plenty of space to succeed on their own academically. I know it’s not easy, but even if your child is struggling, resist the urge to micromanage every homework assignment, how much effort they put into studying or how they manage their time.
Sure, you can jump in to help on occasion, quiz them on an upcoming test or guide them on how to be more productive with their time, but don’t hold their hand every step of the way.
Unless your teen has a learning disability that requires your involvement, they need to learn to figure it out on their own even if it means making mistakes or failing an occasional test. Mistake-based learning is still the best way to learn.
If or when your teen is feeling overwhelmed or needs support in a particular class, encourage them to talk with or email their teacher. They need to learn to self-advocate. The stakes are raised even higher in high school which means they need to get the hang of managing school on their own now.
2. Give Them Plenty of Space at Home
Are you missing your teen hanging out in the kitchen chatting away? Are they spending more time in their room these days? Well… you’re not alone.
As much as you might want to fight this change in your teen’s behavior, their newfound desire for space and alone time is all a normal part of their development and something you need to respect.
Dr. Peter Marshall, child psychologist and author of “Now I Know Why Tigers Eat Their Young,” says, teenagers have a lot of growing up to do and they need space to do it. “Although it’s tempting to think they’re just goofing off when they’re alone, they’re actually spending a large part of their time thinking about things, trying to figure out who they are and who they want to become.”
If your teen is handling other aspects of their life pretty well, then chalk their craving up for alone time as a necessary and normal part of growing up. As a teacher, I found students who weren’t micromanaged and were given more freedom to “be themselves” became stronger independent thinkers and leaders in the classroom.
(If you suspect your teen is struggling emotionally or depressed, reach out to their doctor for a full evaluation.)
3. Allow Them the Freedom to Become Who They’re Meant To Be
As a teacher, the one thing I found is that far too many middle schoolers are focused on pleasing their parents… following their dreams of who they should be, playing sports because their parents want them to play them, trying desperately to get good grades because it’s what their parents hope and expect of them. They struggle with following their parents’ path or following their own.
Your child isn’t a byproduct of you. They are themselves. You have to let them forge their own path.
Let them try new activities, branch out of their comfort zone, and make decisions on their own. When you give your middle-schooler more freedom in their school, home and personal lives, you might just be surprised by the young adult standing before you and what they can actually teach you.
Plus, by accepting your middle-schooler for who they are, you’ll be strengthening communication, fostering a strong relationship with them and boosting your teen’s confidence because they’ll know their decisions and path are being validated and supported.
As a teacher, my goal was very much the same… to help each of my students leave my classroom with a clearer picture of who THEY were and who THEY wanted to become. It’s the greatest gift we can give teens.
Ali Flynn is excited to share with you the joys and hardships of motherhood with an open heart, laughter, and some tears. Ali is a monthly guest contributor for Westchester County Moms and has been seen on Filter Free Parents, Grown and Flown, Today Parents, The Mighty, Her View From Home, and His View From Home, where she shares inspirational stories about motherhood while keeping it real. You can also find her on Facebook or Instagram.