Just saying the words brings me frightening flashbacks of puberty and pimples. Of insecurity and awkwardness. (not to mention, bad hair and braces.)
Really, there may be no more challenging time in life than those middle school years.
(For my international readers, this is roughly from age 10-14.)
Raising four boys of my own, I am keenly aware of all that they go through to transition from boyhood to manhood. Their body, mind, and emotions are changing so quickly, it’s hard to keep up.
And parents, here’s what I know: If there is ever a time your son needs your support, it is in their Middle School years.
Your Middle School son may be pulling away more now…He may be telling you that he’s really grown up now, and ready for all kinds of freedoms. He might tell you that his friends get to do this and that and play this and that, and you’re the a really lame parent if you don’t do the same.
I know, I know.
Because, many parents hit the middle school years and then step back. Maybe there is an awkwardness to this new season in their son’s life, or perhaps the parents just get busy or hit burnout (I get that,) but pulling away and giving kids too much freedom at this age is premature, and can be extremely dangerous.
Sure–you may have taught your kids basic values and morals in their younger years, but now is the time to help them apply it all. Middle School is an ideal time to mentor your son in how to practically work out the character qualities that he learned as a boy.
So even if it seems like the other parents are giving freedoms and privileges that you are not–I say to you, Mom and Dad: Don’t feel pressured to do the same.
You’re better than that.
You know your son better than anyone, and you can make the call when the time is right.
The tricky thing with middle school boys is that there is a huge spectrum of developmental and maturity level among them. You may have a sixth grader who is developmentally still like a fourth grader. On the other hand, you may have an eighth grader who looks and sounds like a seventeen year-old. Things are happening at an inconsistent rate, wildly varying from one young body to the next.
And perhaps your greatest job during these years is to study that boy, and determine just where he is on that spectrum. You, the parent, will know the very best where your son is developmentally and maturity-wise, and you must parent him accordingly. Not according to a number (grade or age.) Not according to what his friends are doing. According to what is the very best thing for you son, in the stage he is currently in.
Hitting the middle school years is like getting to half-time of an important game: You may be ahead now, but the game’s not over. Towel-off, get a big drink of water, and then gear up for the second half. You want to finish strong.
To be fair—There are some middle school students who are very mature, responsible and self-directed. (They’re probably also first borns, but that is another post.) If you have a super mature middle schooler, then open up my “teenage son” post, and begin to incorporate those ideas into your parenting….Slowly, but surely.
But here’s my thing: If they think they are so grown up, give them a chance to prove it.
Example, from a home near mine.
A middle schooler wants an iPhone. His parents had originally told him the soonest he would get one was when he turned thirteen. They told him what maturity level they wanted to see before they would get him a phone. “Most thirteen year olds aren’t that mature yet, but we’ll let you decide.”
Thirteen came, and the parents said no.
Not because he is a bad kid, but because there were a few areas they wanted to see their son mature in. And a phone is a perfect way to help speed up the process.
They reminded him that the phone was dependent on a maturity level, not an age.
And they reminded him that the kind of maturity they thought an iphone-bearing Middle Schooler should have looked like:
Doing chores without being told.
Taking good care of your things, and not losing or breaking them.
Treating your younger siblings with a mature attitude.
Making good choices on t.v. shows, games, and use of your iPod–without constant supervision.
So, they explained, if you are thirteen and doing all of that, you are probably ready to handle a phone. However, if you are thirteen and bickering constantly with a younger brother…or forgetting to take out the trash…or losing your iPod every other week, then you are probably not ready for a phone.
And they made it just that simple.
My parenting MANTRA: WITH FREEDOM COMES RESPONSIBILITY.
You want more freedom? Show me how responsible you are!
(Please keep in mind with the iPhone example–this son is homeschooled and he is not away from his parents very often He really doesn’t “need” a phone. Some kids in different situations actually need to use a phone, so no judgement. The freedom they have with that phone is still something to consider, but…moving on–)
WHAT EVERY MIDDLE SCHOOL BOY NEEDS MOST FROM HIS PARENTS:
1. Love and support. Tons of it.
2. Supervision; with ever-so-gradual increasing freedoms.
3. Help with friends! Give them guidance and counsel. My favorite quote: “Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.” Meet their friends, and get to know them as well.
4. Self control. Talk about it. What does it look like? How to apply it.
5. Lots of communication. Talk to him about growing up. Puberty. Choices. Girls. PEER PRESSURE! Please get Dad in on this. Talk to him and let him talk to you.
6. Activity!! Your Middle Schooler is all pent-up with energy, stress, and hormones. Get him moving every single day and it will help tremendously.
7. Laughter. He may not have a fully matured sense of humor yet, but he is getting there. Laugh with your son and enjoy him.
8. Hugs and touch. Mom AND Dad–he needs these from both of you.
9. Healthy food. A Middle Schooler is old enough to understand that his food choices will affect his health, his acne, and his moods. Try hard to have healthy food at home, and help him make good choices when he is not home.
10. Positive places to hang out. Middle Schoolers begin to crave fitting in and hanging out somewhere besides just at home. Find a good youth group, sports teams, or clubs. Not just hanging out down the street, at the skate park or beach, but give them opportunities to connect with good people in good places.
11. Tons of encouragement. “You are growing into such an amazing young man!” “Wow, look at your muscles!” “I’m so proud of WHO you are becoming.” “You are making really good choices!” Etc etc etc. Do not hold back on encouragement!
I should add here that as for our family–faith is woven throughout each item on that list. Our kids know that we love because God first loved us. We use Bible verses to teach self control, and to help them make choices, and so on. So, though I did not specify this in each point, there is very naturally a spiritual element to each thing on that list!
Middle school can be awkward, and challenging–with moods swinging and hormones cranking. It can also be a positive time, as kids gain self-confidence and maturity. Be involved in your kids’ lives to make these the best years possible!
Read more from Monica Swanson HERE.