The following is an open letter from my boss, Steve Hall, Head of Middle School at Westminster Christian Academy, to our parents. It’s one of my favorite pieces about teaching and parenting young teens.
The middle school years are a unique time of life. It is crazy, wonderful, exciting and baffling. As a public service, I’d like to share with you some basic truths about the middle school student living in your home. In the style of the late night shows, I’d like to share with you the Top Ten Things You Should Know About Your Middle School Student :
10. Each student has one compelling mission each day: avoid embarrassment! It is true that most students believe everyone is watching them at all times. Each student believes a misplaced word, a stumble in the hallway or a failure to meet the unwritten rules of middle school culture — though, in reality, unknown to all — will be seen and remembered forever by all classmates. Parents, don’t take it personally if they don’t want to hug in public anymore.
9. Although all outward evidence suggests otherwise, you are a very important person to your child, and your child feels more secure and valued when you care enough to talk with them about anything and everything. Don’t let the rolling eyes or mock disdain deter you. It’s one of those unwritten rules they have to follow as teenagers.
8. You will require a haz-mat suit and gas mask to handle the unique aromas coming from young teenagers. You have never, ever encountered anything quite like a classroom containing the smells of sweat, an overabundance of body spray and perfume, wet socks and hot, breathing children following PE class. The truth is that kids are self-conscious about the changes that create these issues. It’s a time of a great deal of change in height, weight and appearance. Your child needs a proper diet, plenty of sleep and good hygiene. Be courageous as parents and talk about these changes. The more you talk about them, the easier the discussions will become.
7. Your child pretends you are Nero, but, in reality, you are a hero! Over and over again, both in polls and interviews, teens consistently say they highly value and cherish parents in their lives. Just remember that they don’t need a pal, but they also don’t need a prison warden. They need someone to emulate and trust. They need someone who is looking beyond the mess to provide them with perspective and strength. Young people find great peace and joy in someone who is unwavering in his/her godly principles, yet gracious and understanding of the messy process it is to grow up.
6. When it comes to middle school kids, mood changes can be predicted by NOTHING! If you haven’t noticed a few mood changes and mood swings in your child yet, just wait, because they’re likely coming! Simply put, kids are attempting to handle all of the changes, social uncertainty and awkwardness of maturation, and it can be a bit overwhelming at times. Your child will need your patience, understanding, and direction. The best advice to give is simply this: Pray for your children and pray with your children on a daily basis.
5. Apparently, middle school kids are all equipped to become Supreme Court justices. You will be shocked to find out how often you are wrong, according to your child. I imagine from a middle school child’s perspective that it’s a wonder adults can function well in this world. The truth is that middle school children feel a strong pull to be independent and adult-like thinkers. However, their thinking is filled with over-analysis often followed by a definitive black and white conclusion to the matter. In some cases, their conclusions fly in the face of a parent’s perspective simply to test what it means to be independent. Encourage, nurture, guide and value your child’s growth in this area. Some studies have concluded that 75% of all 14-year-olds are still primarily operating in a concrete stage of learning. Abstract thinking is emerging more and more at this age but oftentimes in an awkward way.
4. There is so much diversity in development among this age group. A middle school student can’t decide if MTV or Cartoon Network is his or her favorite television station. An 8th grade student might be 6’ 3” and his best friend 5’ 4”; some students might socially interact like elementary school students, while others sound more like high school students. Emotional and intellectual responses to the same issue can vary greatly among students. The bottom line: never, ever, ever compare your child’s development to that of another middle school student. Your job is to help your child grow in a manner that promotes maturity in faith, that considers each student’s unique interests and tastes, and that equips him or her to manage and function effectively (I didn’t say ‘perfectly’!) in the various settings in which he or she will work and live.
3. The middle school motto for living: “There is no ‘I’ in TEAM, but there is ‘M and E’…ME!” Egocentrism is a word that perfectly fits this age group. Everything relates back to the child from his perspective. Here is how that perspective translates:
- A traffic jam is likely the result of a mean person intentionally trying to keep your child away from his or her friends at school or from an all-important social function.
- There is an 80% (or greater) chance that the people talking in the hallways, or on a cell phone in a car, or at the United Nations, are talking about your child.
I would offer two pieces of advice. First, help your son or daughter better understand the world around him or her, the great needs of others outside of his or her own experience, and how to think of others first. Secondly, be patient. Our children are mini versions of us. Aren’t we daily struggling with a bit of egocentrism ourselves? Pray for and with your children that God would grant us all attitudes and actions that are selfless and God-oriented.
2. Your child believes he or she is the ONLY one who has not traveled to Tahiti for spring vacation. This is a subtle variation on the theme of egocentrism. Here is the point: your child’s perception is his or her reality. A middle school child’s problems don’t always seem big to us because we live in a bigger world due to our age and experiences. However, your child lives in a much smaller world, so his or her concerns are truly very big to him or her. Your child may very well believe his or her particular situation is the only one of its kind. Respect and listen to your child’s concerns, and move him or her gently back to reality.
#1 Nothing says, “I love you” like a noogie! (noog⋅ie: noun slang – a light hit or jab, usually to a person’s head, accompanied by a twisting motion, with the extended knuckle of the curled-up second or third finger: done as a gesture of affection.) The love language and social interaction styles of this age group are very unusual. Boys’ affections and appreciation are best communicated through physicality. Play and physicality seem to be at the core of true relationship building. Dads, this is why there is a growing desire in your son to wrestle you. Moms, this is why your boy no longer sweetly hugs you, but wants to impress you with a giant bear hug.
Girls are a bit different. It seems that at the core of all great female middle school relationships is drama! It appears that girls believe life is an exciting adventure. And, if there is not currently adventure and excitement in her life, then she will create drama to make it so.
Whatever the peculiarities of this age group might be, in the final analysis, they need you and love you. Know your child. Don’t dread these years. Love this time together. Love the experience. Love your child! This can and should be a wonderful time of life for both you and your child to grow together before the Lord. It is our joy to join with you in this special time of your child’s life.
Partnering with you in this adventure,
Head of Middle School