I have two daughters in middle school, and I have to tell you, this middle school thing is tough. From the social to the academic to swimming in PE, there's more drama in one day than I need in a lifetime.
As my daughters work their way through middle school, I'm reminded that while so many things in this world have changed, middle school has not. In fact, I think the addition of social media and constant text interaction have made it even more difficult.
Middle school is a tough time for kids. Bodies are changing. Hormones are raging. Teachers expect more. Parents expect more. Friendships are harder. It can be tough to fit in.
So, what is it our kids need as they traverse the trails of middle school? It can be tempting to try to step in and right all the wrongs for them. It can be even more tempting to constantly nag them into doing their chores and homework. It can be tough not to constantly argue with them. But what our kids need most in these years of change is to know that some things are constant.
So, here are five things your middle-schooler needs from you.
1. They need to know that they are loved unconditionally. They need to be reminded often that you love them no matter what their grades are, who their friends are or how well they clean their room. They need to know that your love is constant and unchanging. They need to be reminded frequently that God made them and loves them just as they are. They need a living, breathing reminder of Jeremiah 31:3 "I have loved you with an everlasting love."
So much of middle school social life is based on doing the right thing with the right people. Your place in the social hierarchy is determined by the clothes you wear, the people you hang out with, the grades you get and the activities you participate in. Our kids need to know that our love and God's love don't depend on those things. We love them simply for who they are.
2. They need a safe place. Our kids spend so much of their time at school trying to be who they think other people want them to be that they need a safe place where they can just be themselves. Middle school is an in-between age. These kids are caught in the neverland between childhood and being a teenager. They often aren't sure if they want to be a kid who plays with toys or a teenager interested in clothes and movies. They need us to create an environment at home where it's OK for them to be either one. They need one place in their lives where it's safe to just be who they are in that moment.
3. They need wisdom. The problems of a middle-schooler can seem trivial in the light of our adult world, but we have to remember that 40 years of perspective is a lot more than 11 or 13. It's important for us to remember that our kids' problems are big to them. Whether it's struggling with homework or a difficult relationship with a friend, those problems loom large in their lives. We need to be there to offer wisdom and encouragement. We need to help them find solutions to what may seem like trivial problems. We need to teach them to seek out God's wisdom to help them solve their problems. The problem-solving skills they learn today on what may seem like small problems are the same skills they'll use to solve the big ones later in life.
4. They need fun. Kids today are often living lives that are so scheduled and regimented that there's little time for fun. Our kids need us to make time to have fun. Whether it's a spontaneous trip to the movies, an impromptu sleepover with a friend, or a Saturday hike through the woods, we need to remember what it's like to laugh and have fun together. As our kids learn about themselves and start looking for more independence, we often find ourselves at loggerheads with them. To counteract those moments, we have to be deliberate in creating some fun moments with our kids as well.
5. They need to be pushed. Often our preteens don't like to step outside their own comfort zone. However, sometimes, they need a little push to try something new or to make a new friend. It's not easy to try something new or to do something on your own. Our kids need to know that we want them to have new experiences and that it's OK to try something and fail. Sometimes the experience is worth it even if you're not very good at it. When we give our kids a push, though, they also need to know that we're going to be there to catch them if they fall.
Parenting tweens and teens, especially middle-schoolers is hard. It's tough to find a balance that works for everyone. It can often seem like we spend more time at odds with our kids than we do enjoying them. But that's OK. As long as we remember that our kids are simply trying to figure out who they want to be and are trying desperately to navigate the murky waters of these years, we can provide the things they need.