Do you have a child in or starting middle school? If so, I’m sending you a virtual hug and all of my extra emotional strength. You’re going to need it.
My oldest finished middle school this year, and my next child is starting middle school. That’s right, I get to do it all over again. This gave me a nice opportunity to reflect on lessons I’ve learned parenting a child through middle school. I’m sharing them here in the hopes they will help you and yours survive the hell that is middle school.
This post is going to give you the real deal. It’s going to be raw and unfiltered. I’m speaking parent to parent. If you’re not ready to hear it, stop now. (Spoiler alert: It gets positive and uplifting if you read to the end.)
Here we go…
Tips are based on personal experience and should not be considered medical advice. Full disclaimer.
An intro to middle school for parents
Can you still remember the awkwardness, the meanness, and the painful experiences of your own trip through middle school? Yeah, it hasn’t gotten any better. But seeing your kid go through it is like pouring lemon juice on a raw wound. It’s time to prepare yourself.
My last trip through middle school with my oldest child may have been on the more difficult side due to some special issues my daughter has. Basically, take the challenges an average kid faces in middle school and put them on steroids. This gave me a heightened view of the challenges parents and tweens face during these delicate and tumultuous years.
So sit back, I’m throwing those rose-colored glasses in the dumpster and sharing with you what to really expect. I hope knowing what you might face in advance may help you better navigate these challenging years with your child.
Prepare yourself for a wild ride. Adolescent development is not for the faint of heart. The universe is upping your parenting level to “expert” and is about to throw some boulders your way.
Here my biggest lessons on how to survive middle school for parents.
Middle schoolers are jerks
I’m a nonviolent, agreeable person who hates conflict, and I don’t know how many times I’ve wanted to drive to another middle schooler’s house these past few years and punch them in the face.
They say the meanest, most awful things to one another.
Gone are the days of pulling on pigtails or getting pushed on the playground. We’re talking psychological warfare. And they do it for fun.
So what can you do? Be there for your tween. Let them get feelings off their chest, if they’ll talk to you about them. Listen or at least notice them. Give them a hug. Even if they seem too big for it—they’re not.
Boost them up as much as you can. Their self-esteem may experience a nosedive with all of the changes they’re going through, not to mention the added stresses of their peer interactions. So do everything you can to make them know they’re special and loved.
Talk to your child about how kids are going through a lot of emotional changes during this time. It may help them be more kind and understanding with each other.
In middle school, some kids are testing the waters, trying to look more cool or powerful. Warn your child about this behavior and recommend staying away from those kids.
Mental and emotional health are a huge part of surviving middle school. The lockers, changing into gym clothes, and other stuff that might seem like a big deal are easily figured out. It’s the deeper parts that are trickier.
Make sure your tween knows what to do if they experience bullying or feel unsafe. Who is an adult at school they can trust?
If you start to see a pattern of bullying emerge or have any safety concerns, address these immediately. Contact a teacher or administrator right away with specifics and ask how the issue will be handled. Don’t stop until you’re satisfied.
I often wondered if some inter-peer issues rose to this level. If other kids’ behaviors are affecting your child’s mood over time, this merits intervening. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, so don’t be afraid to speak up. Your child still needs you.
Tell your child you want to know if the behavior happens again. They shouldn’t have to feel bad because of things happening at school.
Emotions run high
Unfortunately, the “middle schoolers are jerks” description may very well include your kid at times! Your sweet child may turn into a sassy, demanding know-it-all who loses their temper at the drop of a hat.
Steel yourself for some fun interactions. It’s their age and development. Oh the joys of puberty.
Cut your child some slack in the moment—they may realize the error of their ways after they are on the other side of an emotional outburst. Address behavior after they’ve calmed down.
Encourage them to share their feelings in constructive ways, and keep the lines of communication open.
I hear they turn into regular humans again eventually. I’ll let you know…
Academics get intense
You probably noticed how your child’s kindergarten looked a lot different from your own. Well the trend continues—academics are getting a lot more serious younger.
The jump from elementary to middle school can be especially jarring. Going from one teacher to several and needing to juggle multiple subjects, each with their own work and deadlines, is a big leap for kids.
It requires a level of organization that they are not used to needing, and in our case, the workload increased exponentially. I recommend letting them be responsible for their work but checking in with them frequently in the beginning.
Learn where the teachers post their assignments so you can ask questions of your child like “how’s your math project going?” or “are you ready for your test tomorrow?” These often prompt things like “oh yeah, I forgot!”
Don’t get too hung up on grades at first. It may take some time for them to adjust to juggling their assignments in middle school. Are they writing things down? Do they have an organization system?
Don’t do things for them, but it’s worthwhile to check in. It can be easy to get behind if they don’t get a system in place early. Encourage them to reach out to their teachers with questions.
And remember, they’re still kids! They need time to unwind—to go outside and ride their bike. If they’re spending every waking hour outside of school on school work, talk to their teachers and figure out what’s going on.
You don’t want an overstressed kid before they reach high school, and I feel strongly that mental health is more important than academic marks.
Technology sucks sometimes
Generation Z was practically born with a smartphone in their hand. As they move into middle school, their connectedness only increases.
Managing technology use therefore needs to be considered in the parent’s equation of how to survive middle school.
We’ve tried to limit our children’s electronics use, and it only gets tougher during middle school. For my daughter, most of her middle school classwork was done online.
This makes it hard to figure out when they’re doing schoolwork or spending time on other online distractions. We used a filter device to limit certain sites. You could also put the computer in a central location in your home where they won’t be as tempted to watch YouTube instead of doing their assignments.
You’re going to need clear rules about technology. You might even consider an electronics “contract” so boundaries and consequences are established and agreed upon up front. They will test the limits.
And now is the time to get real about online safety conversations. Even if you’ve already had these discussions, a refresher is warranted.
Teach them how to deal with situations and have conversations about online activity often. Tell them they can come to you if they ever have a question or feel uncomfortable (and they won’t get in trouble).
Cell phones were banned at my daughter’s school, because kids were caught sending inappropriate pictures. Yes, sexting happens in middle school. Not to mention cyberbullying and more. Isn’t technology fun?
Help them establish healthy technology habits now, because the technology isn’t going away.
Beware the smells
Find some good deodorant. Buy them 3 sticks so they can keep one in their backpack, one in their room, and one in the bathroom.
Get them on a good shower schedule. Their teachers will thank you.
Seek out and wash those gym clothes from time to time.
Puberty isn’t for the faint of heart.
Be empathetic and don’t make them feel weird about their body changes. They’re going to feel awkward enough already.
Friends matter—big time
This is the time in your child’s life when their friends start to matter more than their parents. The good news is they can form strong bonds that enrich their lives and help them grow.
I met some of my very best friends in middle school that I’m still close with more than 20 years later!
The bad news is, you might start to feel like you’re on the sidelines and not as involved in their life. You might have to pry information out of them. It’s normal.
Rejections from their peers can also feel huge and terrible. When this happens, your child will need you to be understanding and offer support.
As you’re able, help them to form connections with kids outside of school by taking them to meetups or letting them participate in extracurricular activities. These connections are important to their sense of self at this age.
Keep an eye on the friendships they’re developing to make sure they seem healthy. You have the ability to limit interactions if they’re not good for your child.
They’re still kids
At around 11 to 13 years old, sometimes adults need a reminder that middle schoolers are still kids!
Sure, they’re going to need to start showing a little more responsibility. But don’t be in a rush to put an end to their childhood. Let them have these last few years. They still want to have fun and be kids.
Just make sure they take a shower ?
Watch for warning signs
This can be an especially trying time in a child’s life. If you have any concerns about your child’s mental, emotional, or physical well-being, don’t hesitate to reach out to a healthcare professional.
While you’re at it, be on the lookout for signs of mom burnout in yourself.
There are some good things about middle school
I know, I know—I made it seem pretty horrible, right? But there are some good things about the middle school years.
Adolescence has some of the biggest human development leaps outside of infancy. They’re doing some pretty amazing stuff inside that tween brain of theirs.
What I’ve enjoyed most is seeing my child start to emerge more as their true self. I’ve seen my daughter grow into her own unique personality, hone in on her interests, and stand up for herself.
As they step out of the cloak of their younger childhood, you’ll get a glimpse at where they’re headed as a person. It can be exciting and rewarding as a parent. Your influence will still be there, but you’ll see them begin to make their own path and decisions.
They’ll be going through some difficult times, but I’ve also been impressed by my kid’s strength and resilience.
You can do this, and your kid can too
As tough as the middle school years are, your child can get through them and so can you. Most kids get through these years without long-lasting trauma.
Make some connections with parents who have kids of a similar age. It will help you to have your own tribe that can relate.
There are challenges that arise in the tween years that you’ll want to discuss with someone who understands. Or even just to vent and laugh about! Did I mention having a sense of humor as a parent is one of the keys of how to survive middle school?
Your kid will do and say some dumb things. You won’t be the perfect parent.
These transition years are like the training wheels for teenagers, before things get too awfully serious. It’s a strange phase of childhood where it can be hard to know if you’re doing the right thing.
Know that you’re both struggling together. And if you act out of love, chances are you’re on the right track.
Be there for your kiddo. They need you. And as we know, the time goes by quick. Before you know it, you’ll be packing them off to high school.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself during these challenging times. You’ve got this!