Introduction – Middle School Makeover: Improving the Way You and Your Child Experience the Middle School Years

Introduction

How and Why This Book Works

Middle school has never been easy. For that matter, neither has being a parent. Put them together and … “Hey, you got your parenting into my middle school years!” meets “You got your middle school years into my parenting!” and … eureka! Like the old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups ad, what seems like a calamity ends up being a great combination. By the time you finish this book, you’ll see how parents and middle schoolers don’t inevitably have to clash and you’ll learn ways you and your child can work together to make these next few years easier and more enjoyable.

You may feel, now that your kid is in—or heading to—middle school, that you can finally loosen up your parenting style. Or, you may think it’s time to tighten the screws. In fact, the key to having a happier middle school experience for you and your child has nothing to do with you backing off or clamping down. The key is doing something different.

Middle school is a parenting game changer, and you’ll be surprised how a few simple changes will make your life and your child’s much more pleasant through the tricky middle school years.

WHY THIS BOOK?

Chances are, you’ve picked up this book because you have a child in, or heading to, middle school. That, or you’re a relative of mine. Either way, thank you. If you’re the former, I know two things for sure: you’ve got questions and you’re in a hurry.

I can relate to how hectic life is at this stage. I know I’m supposed to “live in the moment,” “breathe,” and “be present.” I’ve read the bumper stickers. Theoretically, I’m on board. But as a busy mom who also runs my own business, sometimes what makes me feel best is crossing stuff off my list so I can get to the part of my day where I sit myself down on the couch and watch Top Chef.

The reason I share that with you is because I want you to know that this book is designed to accommodate your lifestyle. It’s written at a fast pace and in an easy-to-read style, with practical solutions to the most common problems I see families of middle schoolers face.

RESEARCH AND EXPERIENCE

So that your middle school makeover will be quick and painless, I have read the research, analyzed it for you, and digested the information into easy action and speech you can integrate into your life. I give you suggestions for what to say and when to say it, so that dealing with middle school social turmoil can be as painless as possible.

My advice is based on what the latest science tells us about adolescents, as well as my own experience working with middle schoolers and their parents for the past decade.

Ten years ago, I launched a program called Athena’s Path to help girls learn skills for navigating the turbulent middle school social scene. Shortly after, I developed a brother program, Hero’s Pursuit, to help boys in the same way. Since then, my curriculum has been implemented in six states as a class during the school day. I’ve trained hundreds of teachers and countless parents on how to help kids survive and thrive in middle school. My website, MichelleintheMiddle.com, gives parents a place where they can go for advice and relief from the middle school drama in their lives. Plus, I’ve got middle schoolers of my own at home. I’ve been living and breathing all things middle school for the past decade, during which time I’ve developed strong beliefs about this critical period in kids’ lives.

I believe:

  • The middle school years can and should be fun for kids and parents.
  • Kids in middle school need and deserve more freedom to explore who they are outside of their parents.
  • Parents can take their middle schooler’s accomplishments and failures seriously without taking them personally.
  • Raising middle schoolers is very different from raising elementary schoolers, and requires parents to change the way they relate to their kids.
  • The social world of middle school is incredibly important to a child’s development and should be treated with respect.

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT MIDDLE SCHOOLERS

It’s true, middle schoolers do a lot of things that make you go, “Hmmm …” or in some cases, “What?!” They can be baffling and frustrating, but I prefer to see them as inspirational and impressive. A quick study of young adult novels, the characters in them and our kids’ reactions to them, will show us there is no creature more empathetic toward those who suffer social injustice, more compelled by optimism and faith in humankind, or more aspirational in her beliefs than a middle schooler.

Little kids believe in fantasy magic like Santa, fairies, and dragons. Middle schoolers believe in real-world magic like justice, hope, and infinite possibility.

THE MIDDLE SCHOOL SOCIAL WORLD IS IMPORTANT

As the parent of a child in, or transitioning to, middle school you are probably recalling your own adolescent memories more frequently these days. Dropping off at preschool was heart-wrenching, but something about sending your child through those big middle school doors among the masses of suddenly supersized kids can fill your veins with the icy fear of mean girls, pubescent boys, rumors, parties, cliques, and bad hair days as if you were in middle school all over again. I can almost smell the Noxema now …

At no time is our sense of parental security more rocked than during the middle school years. Why is it so? Your child, although progressing happily with his social, emotional, physical, and intellectual development to this point, upon entering middle school begins to embark on a major construction project to build the three things he needs to be an adult: a grown-up body, a mature brain, and a unique identity. This is his primary job in middle school—and it’s an awesome task—all the while trying to keep up good grades and participate in extracurricular activities.

This construction project will get very sloppy. The middle school years are filled with impulsive mistakes, overflowing emotions, irrational misunderstandings, and even new and shocking smells.

You thought diaper changes were rough? Wait until you experience the aroma of middle school. Brace yourself.

Complicating the inherent difficulties of building a body, brain, and identity is the significant fact that this particular construction project is being built on unsteady ground. Imagine constructing a house on the beach at low tide. Shifting sands and changing tides are naturally going to rock the foundation. If your child’s “house” is his new body, brain, and identity project, then the unstable “beach” below him is the middle school social scene.

Nothing takes up more brain space for your child than figuring out how to maintain his balance in the new social order while also figuring out what to do with gangly legs, impulsive thoughts, and self-doubt.

Your child’s success in the middle school years, and well into adulthood, relies on his ability to successfully navigate his social scene so that the bumpy terrain doesn’t throw his psychological and emotional development too far off kilter. Creating a strong foundation in the social world will make the construction project go much more smoothly because the challenges of the social world routinely cause kids to second-guess themselves. You see this when your daughter shuts down after being teased for developing too early or too late (body doubt), when your son confesses he didn’t want to take “that dare” but he didn’t know how to say no without looking scared (brain doubt), or when your typically polite daughter gets called to the principal’s office for bullying (identity doubt).

The good news is that you can help your child learn how to respond to his changing social scene in a way that builds his confidence. Parenting a middle schooler is very different from parenting an elementary schooler, and it’s not entirely intuitive. Most of all, this requires a major paradigm shift from fixing things for your child to teaching your child how to fix things himself. Middle school is the exact right time to do this, so your child can build the critical thinking, problem solving, and self-reliance skills he needs to be a success.

I cannot stress enough, as parents we must take the middle school social scene seriously. It’s easy, and often more comfortable, to put up walls, ignore trends, and shy away from what’s happening on the bus, in the hallway, in the cafeteria, and at friends’ houses. It would be easier to focus on grades and curfew than on crushes, dares, kissing, and drinking. Parenting a middle schooler is not for the faint of heart.

There are so many easy ways you can make the middle school years better for your child and you, too. By the time you finish reading this book you will know:

  • How the key tasks of body, brain, and identity development will affect your middle schooler and why your parenting approach must adapt to address these changes.
  • What really happens in middle school today and how it differs from when we were there.
  • How to teach your child to independently and creatively solve her own problems.
  • The best way to get your child to honestly open up to you about middle school life.
  • Exactly what to say and do when your child comes to you with the common middle school social dilemmas kids face.
  • How to practice taking care of yourself during this time, too.

Ready? Grab your backpack. We’re headed back to middle school.