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Parenting Middle Schoolers: How Do You Get Them Talking?

Parenting a middle schooler doesn’t exactly come with a manual. Every kid is different, and so is every parent. Talking about sensitive topics and keeping an open dialogue with your middle schooler is different in every family. We asked parents of middle schoolers what strategies they used to get the conversation started and maintain it.

3 Keys to Communicating with Middle School Students:

1. Careful listening

Parenting a middle schooler is tricky, especially when it comes to communication. Some kids just aren’t big talkers, and when they do talk, they are quickly done discussing any given topic. When parents try to bring up a scary news story, for example, the tween has already moved on to thinking about other things. One Maryland family says that if their reserved 11-year-old son initiates a topic, like mentioning an invitation to a party or pointing out something he likes, then they know that’s a big deal to him and they should take note. “For us,” mom says, “it is less about trying to talk to him and more about really listening to what he says.”

2. Ongoing conversation

For another family in upstate New York, the key is keeping a low-key, long-term dialogue open, especially about potentially sensitive topics. An initial conversation about, say, puberty, may result in awkwardness, but giving the space to always come back and continue the conversation later works for this family. “She usually doesn’t come to me out of the blue, but if I ask her a question, I’m sure to leave it open that she can come back to me, and she often does. I’m glad she feels comfortable doing that,” says mom.

3. No judgments

One Minnesota mom recalls her own mom. “She was not easy to talk to. She was judgmental, accusatory, and close-minded. In my mind, it was easier not to tell her things.” Because of this, she tries to keep her conversations with her own kids “very open, matter-of-fact, and non-judgmental.”

Similarly, a Kentucky family tries to listen and keep things non-judgmental. Their eldest son “shares everything in a very fast fashion in the first 15 minutes in the car ride home. I just listen.” The 12-year-old will occasionally preface something by saying, “You won’t like this,” to which mom usually responds, “I don’t have to like it. I can still listen.” She adds, “He used to lie a lot or not tell me bad things even though he knew I was going to get an email or phone call from school.” Now, she makes sure to make clear that it’s better to just talk about and handle the tough situations together, and she feels her son has become more open as a result.

Randye Hoder

Randye Hoder writes about the intersection of family, politics and culture. Her articles have appeared in  the The New York Times,  Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Slate, Time and elsewhere. You can follow her on Twitter @ranhoder.