Middle School & Adolescence....
2 words that send shivers down the spines of parents and teachers alike.
From a middle school teacher's perspective, all those shivers are unnecessary. Making the most of your child's middle school years is quite simple: Send them to boarding school and change your phone number, email address and any other means of contact.
Seriously? Middle schoolers are a difficult crew to navigate with at times, but these years can also mark some of the best times you will spend with your child. Caught in the balance between childhood and adulthood, these kids are searching for their identity, looking for support, help, and most of all, unconditional love and acceptance.
The first step to successful navigation through the storm is flexibility. Middle schoolers need and crave rules, but need to feel as if they have a say in these rules. Be ready to negotiate, change, and bend the rules to fit the circumstances. That doesn't mean letting go of your family values and ideals, or letting your teen run the show. Just be ready to listen, rethink and reconsider how rules are enforced. If school night bedtime is normally 9, but there is some MUST BE WATCHED show in tonight until 10, negotiate - You may stay up and watch the show, but you must still get yourself up and ready for school on time. If you aren't ready when the bus comes, no TV for a week. (or whatever consequence you choose) Put the power in the teen's hands.
The next step is teaching responsibility. When your child starts middle school, you need to buy them 2 items: an alarm clock and a laundry basket, and teach them to use both. Don't rush to rescue them when they don't get up on time. Skipping breakfast to catch the bus, wearing dirty clothes to school, will not kill them! However, it might teach them to become more responsible. Helping them learning to manage their time, learning to think ahead, will not only take the getting them up and doing their laundry responsibility from your already busy life, it will ultimately help your teen when they are out on their own.
The last key to success ties in with the last one. While you are teaching responsibility, teach your child that failure might be an option. Don't be a helicopter parent, swooping in to drive them back to school to get a forgotten book every day, calling or writing the teacher to get an extension on a project, or finishing homework for your child. Middle school is about building good habits. Have clear cut expectations about work completion, grades, behavior and effort, along with clearly outlined consequences when those expectations are not met. Then, let your child take the lead, either meeting the expectations or not. It is difficult to step back and let them fail, but in the grand scheme of life and school, the middle grades are the time to let them flounder and learn to deal with the consequences.
Middle schoolers aren't just big KIDS and they aren't just littler high schoolers. They are unique creatures, interesting, intelligent, and on the cusp of adulthood. With a little creativity and perserverance on your part, you can make these the BEST years of their lives.