by Jane Parent
My kids have long since emerged from the dark tunnel of middle school, but I remember those wondrous, bewildering, exasperating years all too well. We made so many middle school parenting mistakes, which I can only see now with the benefit of hindsight. If I could do it all over again, there are five things I wish we had done differently while they were in middle school. It’s too late for my kids, but there’s no reason you can’t profit from my middle school parenting mistakes.
Middle School Parenting Mistakes
1. Bringing Forgotten Stuff to School.
You see the forgotten lunch bag, or gym shoes as soon as you get back from dropping them off. Honestly, your intentions are so pure. You don’t want him to go hungry, or have to sit out of gym class and get a detention, or to get a zero in English for forgetting his report. Secretly, you kind of like being the hero, too, swinging into action to save the day for little Jack or Mackenzie. And the teacher will be impressed by what a dedicated parent you are! Plus, you can’t have a blemish on their sixth grade report card, or they might not get into Dartmouth, right?
Don’t do it. You aren’t helping your kid to become a responsible, conscientious young adult. Guess what? He’ll forget his lunch again next week. Some kids only learn the hard way, and by cushioning the blunt impact of the lesson, you are most assuredly guaranteeing it will happen again.
The stakes for failure are the lowest they are ever going to be when he or she is in middle school. From this point on, the consequences just get bigger and more painful. Let them fail now. If you bring his forgotten school report today, you are merely increasing the odds that junior year in high school he will “forget” his printed admission ticket for the SAT and expect you to run it to him at 7:30 a.m. on some snowy February morning. Instead, help your son or daughter learn to plan ahead, and do not permit their poor planning to become your emergency.
2. Video Games After School
When my sons got home from school, all they wanted to do was grab a bowl of cheddar Goldfish and retire to the basement for a half hour of relaxing Playstation. And I let them, because everyone needs a little break to clear their minds, right? For some foolish reason, I trusted them to be able to manage their own time and to be able to turn off the game and get on with homework. A classic middle school parenting mistake. A half hour always turned into an hour or two hours because video games were like heroin to my older son.
He usually ended up squandering the most productive portion of the afternoon and left homework for after sports practice when he was physically and mentally exhausted. No surprise that his work product frequently suffered as a result, or was altogether skipped.
By the time our youngest son was in sixth grade, we instituted a blanket rule: no video or computer games on school nights. Period. I wish we had done it earlier.
3. Letting Them Quit Piano Lessons
We had a wonderful Russian piano teacher named Elena who came to our house for lessons. Every week, she sadly implored my children to practice, practice so they, too, would know the joy of having a memorized repertoire of songs that they could play to entertain family or company. My daughter was fairly diligent, but the boys hated the forced inactivity of piano lessons. They did the bare minimum and sighed and squirmed through their lessons. It felt like a waste of time and money, and just one more thing about which I had to nag them. We had homework, sports, after school clubs, chores, time with friends, and about a million other things they’d rather be doing — so I let them quit.
At some point in high school, after seeing an accomplished classmate perform at a school concert or assembly, each of my kids has turned to me and said wistfully “I wish I could still play the piano.” Me too.
4. “You’re So Smart — If You Just Tried A Little Harder …”
For years, I thought that my oldest son just wasn’t motivated by grades. He was so smart, after all. Whenever he came home with a disappointing grade, we didn’t want to crush his little spirit, so we would say something like “You’re so smart and if you just tried a little harder, you could be getting an A.” So he did try — but only just a little bit. We had, in effect, given him permission to do the bare minimum in his schoolwork because we had encouraged him to believe that just being smart was enough to get good grades. If I could do it again, what he really needed was a bigger serving of “Toughen up, buttercup.” Instead of telling my precious snowflake how smart he was, I should have instead told him that success comes from effort, self-discipline, and preparation. No one succeeds simply because his mother has told him he is “so smart.”
5. Studying In Bed
Our daughter’s bed became a cozy nest of textbooks, fleece blankets, wrappers, Kleenex, dirty dishes, and nail polish bottles. Occasionally it was so messy she had to sleep in the guest room. For years, she had trouble falling asleep, struggling with racing thoughts and insomnia. Sometimes she fell asleep when she should’ve been studying. I know now it was a mistake to permit her bed to become her “home office” and anything but a place reserved for restful sleep. I should have insisted that she use her desk for studying, and her bed only for sleeping. I could have saved her from those dark circles under her eyes and a few years of chronic exhaustion in high school.
Jane Parent is senior editor of Your Teen.
MIDDLE SCHOOL MAKEOVER: Improving the Way You & Your Child Experience the Middle School Years
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