By Jane Parent
A bad grade. A missed assignment. A missed bus. An extra curricular screw up. Whatever it is, failure isn’t easy for the middle schooler struggling through it or for the parents watching it. But learning how to deal with life’s ups and downs is important and, what’s more, absolutely necessary for our adolescents to experience. Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair, clinical psychologist, consultant, and author has advice for helping parents to raise strong, savvy, and resilient children. She offers three top tips for parents to consider when it comes to parenting middle schoolers.
1. Let Them Deal With It
Parents today are over-functioning, trying to shield their kids from ever experiencing failure. If your child does poorly on a test because he or she was sick, or tired, or didn’t do the work they needed to, then they need to deal with the consequences. When parents get so concerned that their kid is going to get a B or a D and that one grade will ruin their future, parents do crazy things. You want your child to learn to be resilient, but they will not learn to be resilient if you constantly take the bumps out of the road.
Kids need to learn that they choices they make have consequences. They have to make repeated mistakes, and parents cannot get caught up in thinking that a D or even an F, or repeating tenth grade geometry is a disaster. Even though it is painful to see your kids miserable, this is how your child will build character, independence, and maturity.
Even twenty years ago, if a kid came home and said “I got a D on the test,” parents would have said, “Study harder next time,” or “Find out what you didn’t understand.” Today, many parents will call the teacher and complain that the test wasn’t fair or ask if their child can get extra credit. This generation of parents is extremely anxious. They don’t like their kids to get mad at them, or to be upset at all. But we are not helping our children by not holding them accountable for their choices.
2. Set Limits
Some parents are afraid of setting limits, and that is very damaging for children. Parents must set limits, but sometimes that means your child is going to say, “I hate you,” or “You’re the worst parent ever,” or “Everybody else has a smartphone in sixth grade. Why can’t I?” Without any limits, our children feel like the rules don’t apply to them, that they are entitled, and that they deserve special treatment.
3. Value Hard Work
One of the most important traits you want your child to develop is a really good work ethic. To learn how to work hard, and that hard work pays off. When you pave the way for them and don’t make them get a job, or take care of other people and not just themselves, you are depriving them of very important social and emotional tools for life. The most important key to success, by far, is not your GPA, or your SAT, or what school you go to – it’s social and emotional intelligence.
Value your teenager’s effort versus only the outcome (the grade, the win, etc.). If your teenager gets an A, it’s “Wow, you worked hard and the results show.” If it’s a poor job, your job as parent is to say “Wow that grade really seems to be upsetting you” or “That really stinks, you tried hard and you didn’t get what you wanted.” If they didn’t try hard, you can say “What choices did you make? Did you try your best? To me, going out with your friends all day Saturday and Sunday doesn’t look like you maximized your study time.”
Research from the field of positive psychology tells us what successful people look like: they have self-control, communicate their feelings respectfully, they know how to be a team player, have a strong work ethic, resilience, perseverance, grit, they know how to completely crash and get right back up. They are optimistic. They experience joy and gratitude, often as a result of working hard at something that is personally meaningful to them. These are traits we know that kids need in order to succeed, and shielding your child from rejection, disappointment, and failure does not teach those traits.
Jane Parent is a freelance writer in Northeast Ohio and frequent contributor to Your Teen.
MIDDLE SCHOOL MAKEOVER: Improving the Way You & Your Child Experience the Middle School Years
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RELIEF IS HERE. Middle School Makeover is a guide for parents and educators to help the tweens in their lives navigate the socially fraught hallways, gyms, and cafeterias of middle school.
This book helps parents, teachers, and other adults in middle school settings to understand the social dilemmas and other issues that kids today face.