As a parent and a therapist who sees adolescents for therapy, I have come to embrace the belief that we need to take back our role of being the primary influence of our adolescents. In an age of electronics, social pressures, and an increase in competition to be the best, we need to help our teens navigate this world with us at the helm.
We need to be active participants in their lives. It’s possible that your once sweet child is now striving to find themselves as they are experiencing puberty, uncertainity and self doubt. They are likely to be more argumentative, telling you that you are the worst parent in the world, slamming their doors, refusing to follow the rules, etc. Unfortunately, this is all normal.
Yes, middle schoolers have an increase in social pressure, who likes whom, who’s going to do what. They can experience more drama like gossiping and backstabbing and there can be an increase in competition and its not just in sports, but who is prettier, smarter and more popular. All of this makes for a difficult period of highs and lows in the home.
Middle schoolers are trying to figure out who they are, what’s important, where they are in the social order. They are struggling with just wanting to be like everyone else. Typically, they don’t want to stand out in any way, they want to fly below the radar. Feeling accepted by their peers is probably the most important task that your child is experiencing on a daily basis.
Ask your middle schooler these questions:
- Do they like going to school?
- Do they feel accepted by their peers?
- Do they have many friends, one friend or no friends?
- Are they experiencing bullying?
- Do they experience repeated peer conflict?
- Are they spending a great deal of time on their phones? Are they feeling like they are missing out on something if they are not constantly connected in some way to their friends in the cyber world? Unfortunately, this is the norm for middle to high schoolers. Kids are developing anxiety regarding the need to feel connected and know what’s going on.
- Do you feel like there is a code of silence during these years?
- Are kids afraid to reach out to someone who is sitting alone because they don’t want to be associated with that person?
- Are kids afraid to get involved when they see someone being mistreated?
- As a parent are you concerned about your own social order amongst the other parents?
- What kinds of choices is your child making? Your child is constantly bombarded with decisions of right from wrong.
So the question on your mind is how do we help our middle schoolers navigate this social world? The answer can be found in you, their parent. Believe that you are the primary influence on your child. As parents we model for them correct social behavior. We are setting examples for them daily. What is important to you and do you share this with your child? Talk about your values and morals. Are your kids following them when they leave for school? What is important to you as a family – being kind to all or being accepted into the “popular group”?
Communication and a willingness to talk about the challenging stuff is crucial. Parents need to keep the lines of communication open, and that doesn’t mean always talking or lecturing to your kid.
- Teach your child how to solve peer conflict because as we know this is just the beginning. It’s normal to have conflict, how they resolve it is the important matter. Do you model positive conflict resolution in your home?
- If your child is in a social circle that appears unhealthy, do something about it. Don’t let your child experience this. It is easy to loose a sense of themselves in these groups.
- Teach your child to stand up and speak up if they see something that isn’t right.
All of this is hard, no one said this parenting thing was easy. Certainly no one has said being a teen is easy either. The key is to have a positive relationship with your teen. Always think about what is important in your family. Sometimes as parents we get off track but that doesn’t mean it has to be permanent. Reach out to friends and family for support and suggestions. If that isn’t available to you reach out to a mental health professional who can support and guide you through these challenging years.
Written by Tammy Graham, a licensed child, adolescent and family therapist specializing in helping kids and families have more balance and peace in their lives. She has a practice in Arlington.