Magazine article Work & Family Life

Life with Kids in the Middle-School Years

Magazine article Work & Family Life

Life with Kids in the Middle-School Years

Article excerpt

One of the big frustrations of pre-teens and young adolescents is the feeling of being misunderstood. So a good starting point for any discussion of the middle-school years is to think about what kids this age-from about 9 to 13-wish their parents really understood about them.

Here's my list of the main issues, drawn from conversations with pre-teens and their parents over the last 20 years. It highlights typical circumstances that, if ignored, can lead to a lot of tension among family members.

As you read the list, keep in mind that young people's perceptions of what they need and want may or may not be what will actually move them forward in their lives. Be aware too that kids aren't all the same and that your child's needs are unique and continually broadening.

Learning to appreciate your middler schooler's changing perspectives while maintaining your own is an ongoing challenge but one worth pursuing.

What young people want their parents to know

* "My friends are important to me." Let me hang out with them and please be nice when I bring them home.

* "I want to feel respected." One way to do this is to give me some privacy and personal space at home.

* "I need to have some constraints but I won't admit it." I know that too much freedom can get me into trouble.

* "Teach me how to make choices." I don't expect you to bail me out every time I make a bad choice. But give me a chance to make my own decisions and learn from them.

* "Constant nagging bugs me." I know I need to help out around the house. Just give me a list and a deadline for completing each chore.

* "Let me choose my own extracurricular activities." Don't push me to participate in something I don't want to do. I want to pick my own after-school sports and clubs.

* "Let's not argue about school." If you want me to get all A's and B's, say so. I'd like to know exactly what you expect from me-not just "do your best."

* "When I'm feeling down, give me some time and space." I need to sort out my emotions. But let me know that you'll be ready to listen when I'm ready to talk.

* "I care more about how I look than I used to." Please don't comment on my appearance, especially in public or around my friends. It's embarrassing.

Focus on friendship

Middle school kicks relationships between kids up to a whole new level. Children encounter a sea of new faces when they change schools. They get a full complement of new teachers and an increased academic load. Complicating matters are the changes in their physical appearance and emotional development.

The onset of puberty increases self-consciousness. This is intensified by peer scrutiny, and it leaves many young adolescents feeling emotionally insecure. For a lot of middle-school aged kids, keeping their old friends while making new ones can be a real challenge.

A fast-changing scene

It's not uncommon for children's friendships and social groups to change from day to day in middle school, often without warning or explanation.

With early adolescence comes the need for kids to rediscover their identity. They often do this by trying out different social groups until they find one that seems to give them a sense of belonging. But this win-and-lose, come-and-go pattern can leave young people vulnerable to having their feelings hurt.

What parents «an do

* Stand by for emotional support. Allow normal adolescent ups and downs to play out. …

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