One of the most common questions I as a Middle School Director from parents is “Is this normal?” Sometimes, it is phrased differently: “what is wrong with my son/daughter?” Sometimes, there are hints of desperation: “What happened to my loving child?”, or “What did I do wrong?” Regardless, parenting teenagers or pre-teens can be difficult and unpredictable.
After teaching or leading middle schools for fifteen years and raising three kids through these years (we are still in it!), my answer is most often, “YES! Yes, this is normal.” Raising a middle-schooler can really keep us on our toes. My advice to parents during this time is usually to cherish it. This time will pass so quickly, and right before your eyes, you are watching your child become an adult. It is like getting the opportunity to watch a caterpillar become a butterfly, and you get the opportunity to decide just how beautiful that butterfly will become.
Here are just a few things I often share with parents (and teachers who aren’t parents) during this time:
- Your child WILL make mistakes, and they should. This is the time to make mistakes and learn. As educators and parents, we need to help foster the courage to recover and learn from those mistakes. They might fail a test. They might befriend someone who isn’t a great choice. They might sneak out at night. Whatever the mistake, no matter how small or large, we need to give our children the opportunity to recognize their mistake and guide them through it. We can’t rescue or shelter them from these experiences.
- Your child WILL face some sort of social conflict, and they should. One of the best ways to learn how to navigate this crazy world of diverse people is to engage with them. Most of the time those interactions are positive. Sometimes they are not so great. We can coach our children on how to resolve these conflicts. It might be learning how to apologize. It might be learning how to tell someone they hurt you. It might be telling someone they are not a good friend and moving on. Being able to advocate for themselves is a valuable skill. There will be many times where they will need the skill of having difficult conversations with others whether in the workforce or in personal relationships.
- Your child WILL be unpredictable. Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot to say about this, except you should be ready for the unknown. I think what shocks parents the most are the tears that come with middle school, especially for boys-6th-grade boys, in particular. Sometimes, it is best to just walk away during those times and come back when they are a bit calmer–a lot like when they were toddlers.
- Your child WILL be embarrassed by you, and that is okay. Just accept it. The important part is for them to always know they are loved–embarrassing or not.
- Your child WILL most likely develop a crush or fall in love in middle school, and they should. And, they might even get their heart broken, and they should. Learning what is good and nice in a relationship, even a puppy love relationship, is a wonderful learning opportunity. Our hope as parents is that our children will find a partner that makes them happy, and they have a lovely, healthy relationship in the future. Learning how to interact with our partners is a valuable learning experience that can shape a future relationship. Their future husband/wife will thank them for learning through heartache.
Sometimes, it can be hard to let go of your “baby”. Sometimes, it is hard to let go of the control over every aspect of their lives. Sometimes, we remember just how hard it is to be a teenager, and we simply don’t want our children to experience all of the anguish and awkwardness, but the reality is that as parents, we need to do exactly that–let go and let our children experience this developmental stage. And, remember that your school is there to partner with you during this time. As their teachers, we often see the good side of them, and we love to celebrate those moments.
Enjoy this funny video that concisely describes living with a teenager: