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Why Middle School is Hard for Parents and How to Fix it

I see two primary reasons parents find middle school challenging and it’s not because kids are going through puberty and moody. Do we miss their cuter, cuddly elementary school selves? Maybe some, but we’re also ready to reclaim our own lives in a bigger way. We’ve been in primary parent mode for 12 years and want to take our foot off the pedal at a time when it’s confusing to know how our kids actually need us. 


And we do back off in some ways, particularly as these peak earning years create more work demands. It’s also easier to recede as a parent in middle school - fewer asks from the PTA, not scheduling play dates anymore and hopefully we’ve stopped packing snacks and water bottles by now. But the truth is, for many of us, this loss of control is scary. What are my kids doing on their devices all day? They rebuff all my efforts at conversation. Do I trust that everything is ok or dig my heels in more, i.e., nag and pry? How do I know where the right balance of privacy and safety lies?  How much more can or do I move into the adult world, getting my own needs met? If I don’t do it now, am I willing to wait until my kids are in college? 


Reason #2: Our own wonderful memories. Hello, who had a great time in middle school? Maybe a handful of the popular crowd, but I’m guessing you're not the people reading this. If you’re still carrying baggage about social rejection or poor body image from your adolescence, watching your kid go through this stuff can be gut-wrenching. Wait, you’re saying I have to dig into that puberty stuff now? Can’t I just leave it in the memory banks and pretend it will go away? Of course you can ignore your past, but we both know it will rear its ugly head, probably disguised as helicopter parenting or misplaced anxiety about whether my child is ok/normal. And do you want your child to be on the receiving end of that? [Hint, this is where I tell you we can clear a lot of this up without unearthing every bad thing that ever happened to you.] So what’s the upside of doing this work, besides feeling better and maybe improving your body image while you’re at it? 


You have a better internal guidance system that knows whether it’s you or your kid reacting in the moment, and you can make better parenting decisions based on fact and not misplaced angst.


Besides the inner work you’re always pushing (geez, Louise, are you a coach or something), what else can help?


If you haven’t already, start investing in your adult life. For them and for you. Committing to your adult fun, even in small ways, not only fills your tank but models what healthy adulthood looks like. It may seem like teens are in their rooms all the time, but they’re watching us and have a pretty good pulse on our behavior. 


Research shows that content people regularly schedule basic things like coffee or a walk with a friend, a regular date night, or a socially-focused hobby (could even double as an exercise class). All the things we badger kids to do more of - physical activity, hanging out with people IRL – we have to be doing it ourselves. And talk about these things when you share about your day. Ahem…maybe less social media scrolling too in front of young minds? 


Want to find out what your teens are thinking or worrying about? Build your connection with them. Remember the 1:1 play time recommended for younger kids? It still applies now. Get out of the house. Treat them to boba tea or play frisbee in the park. They may groan at first, but you’ll create space for them to open up if they choose. Keep it short: 30-45 minutes is plenty and twice a month is sufficient. Particularly if you have an introverted kid, don’t pressure them to talk too much. A few questions are ok, but they will shut down if you overdo it. Ask about their video games and what they like about playing them. What was the funniest IG reel they saw that day? We might not care in the slightest about the topic, but we have to talk about what they value to build trust. Over time, they may share tidbits about friends or school challenges that we can file away or address head on if it feels necessary. 


Want to chat more about your child or specific situation? Join the March 6th Tapping Circle focused on Parenting Teenagers or set up a virtual coffee chat to discuss 1:1 options. Also leave a comment on which idea sounds the most doable or practical, or just a "Hell, Yeah!".

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