15 Things No One Warns You About When Parenting a Middle Schooler

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Middle schoolers are emotional, moody and sometimes hard to read. Parenting a middle-schooler almost requires a specialized degree!

As a veteran middle school counselor, there were so many things I learned about this age that challenged and encouraged me. When people found out I was a middle school counselor, the reaction was almost always the same.

“I could never do what you do.”

“God bless you.”

“You must be a special kind of person.”

“I have a middle schooler and I have no idea how you deal with THAT all day.”

Truth be told, it does take a special person to be patient and navigate all of the feelings & hormones that go along with being a t(w)een. When I think back to my years in middle school, I do not get warm fuzzy feelings.

Kids were mean, I felt like my body was being weird and I struggled with self confidence. It was such a weird time and I didn’t feel like I could talk to my parents about it. All of the awkwardness that I felt would’ve been easier to bear had I had the support of adults who understand what I was going through developmentally.

So here is a comprehensive list of things that most middle-schoolers experience + tips on how to handle it all:

Emotional roller coasters

Happy one minute, moody the next. Why in the world do middle schoolers have emotions that jump up and down?

Well, there is so much going on inside their heads that they don’t know how to deal with–and they fail to communicate with you. Those highs and lows don’t come for no reason.

Here’s your opportunity to find out what’s going on in their world. If you are waiting for a play by play, then you probably won’t get it.

Preteens and teens are afraid of their parents judgement, even if it isn’t them making poor decisions. Open the door of communication by asking lots of questions, then being silent to hear the answers, even if you think the answers don’t make sense.

Ask open ended questions to keep the conversation rolling. Invite their friends over so you can get a feel of what their friends are like. Have conversations with them about what makes a good friend. Ask questions about their crushes and what their crushes are like.

Friendship issues cause emotional roller coasters

Middle school is a tricky time because kids from several elementary schools are thrown together in one (or several) middle schools. Kids now have to make more choices about things (like friendships) than they ever did in the past.

They struggle with having multiple relationships and often think they all their friends must like the same things.

Friendships they’ve had since elementary school sometimes disappear because their old friends have discovered new “more interesting” friends and it may hurt your child’s feelings.

Talk to your child about how friendships can change. Encourage them to be open to new friendships while still enjoying the old ones. Talk to them about how to move past the hurt when old friends change.

Become interested in “dating”

You may notice your teenage son suddenly taking an interest in body spray, cologne or his hair. Your daughter tells you that all the things she loved in elementary school are no longer cool.

Sometimes popular culture is the culprit, but sometimes it’s because they’ve taken an interest in the opposite sex.

Boys begin to do silly things to be noticed by girls, and girls take a closer look at their body image.

This is such an important time for parents to begin talking to their children (if you haven’t already) about sex, healthy relationships and appropriate online behavior.

Reinforce that their body belongs to them, and they shouldn’t have to do anything (kiss, send a picture, etc) to get someone to like them.

As a middle school counselor, I talked with countless kids and their parents about inappropriate pictures sent. Almost every time, the student said they didn’t want to send the picture, but they felt pressured to, or they were just reciprocating what was already sent to them. Don’t miss the opportunity to have these important conversations!

Social media is taken as gospel

Parents are enjoying Facebook and Instagram while the kids are loving Tik Tok, Zepeto, Kik, Houseparty, Tellegram and many more.

Talk to your kids about the joys + dangers of social media. Be sure to share with them that everything posted online is not real.

Homework is harder

Elementary school is just a different world. There is communication through daily folders, online apps like ClassTag & Remind 101.

Middle school teachers expect their students to be more responsible for their learning. Which means taking notes, writing down homework & tests.

Silence is not always golden

Teachers don’t always communicate as well as they did in elementary school

Elementary school is just a different world. There is communication through daily folders, online apps like ClassTag & Remind 101.

Middle school teachers often teach all day with 1-2 blocks of planning. They could potentially teach upwards of over 100 students a day. Because of the large number of students they teach, they often place more responsibility on the day to day interactions of class on parents and students. This can be a hard reality for parents to accept.

New responsibilities are overwhelming..even if they seem to be handling it well

Even responsible kids stress too. Talk to your middle schooler about stress management and asking for help.

Sometimes kids suffer in silence simply because they don’t want to bother the busy adults in their lives. Remind them that no problem is too big.

Discovering who they are is a challenge

Group think is such a thing in middle school. Kids are often afraid to step outside of the box and be different. Encourage your child that it’s okay to be different.

If you are raising a minority child in a school with little diversity, make sure your child is okay. Have conversations about what that experience looks like and feels like for them. Be prepared to be their advocate in the event something happens that makes them feel uncomfortable.

Extracurricular activities begin to dictate the quality/amount of family time

Band, chorus, track, basketball, football, soccer…the beginning of the end of parents’ free time. As kids become more involved with sports and extracurricular activities, the less quality family time is available.

After school becomes a time to shuffle kids from location to location. Make those moments count. And if you allow your kids to sign up for 50,000 activities, don’t complain when you have to transport them.

Adult friendships sometimes change when the kids fall out

You may not always agree with your friend’s decisions of things they let their kids do. You may be seen as the overbearing parents.

It gets tricky when you have to confront an issue with a friend, and the friend believes the child over you. Kids can change friendships.

Not all parents care as much as you do

It’s important to communicate with your children regularly about your expectations for their behavior. Some parents let the kids run the show, and your child is probably interacting daily with kids like this.

Even your responsible kids need boundaries

Kids are kids. If they are allowed to have 80 feet, they will take all 80. Rewarding your children’s good behavior doesn’t mean you should let them roam free.

If you haven’t talked to your kids about you know what by now, you’re too late

If you don’t talk to your kids about sex, someone will. A classmate that has already had sex, a older child on the bus, a YouTube video, someone somewhere will teach your kids.

And more than likely, a permission form will come home to ask about teaching a class

They still need hugs & kisses, even if they pretend they don’t like them

I’ve worked with some pretty broken children over the years. Some of them drained me daily. They would stop by my office every period if they could. The reason they were so attention seeking is because they weren’t getting it at home.

Not all of these children came from unfit homes. Some of the parents were single parents, or just busy parents.

My middle school students taught me how to be a better mother. No matter how old your children get, don’t neglect to tell them what you love about them or how proud you are of them. Give them hugs. Pull them close.Those small words and actions don’t go unnoticed.

And if your kids don’t get what they need at home, they will search elsewhere for it. In some cases they may seek out a trusted adult. In other cases, it causes them to look for it in the wrong places.
Parenting a middle schooler doesn’t have to be unbearable. Understanding how your children are developing, open communication and quality time together can make this an unforgettable time in your middle schooler’s life.
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