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Can Parents Be Prepared for Middle School? Interview with Judith Warner

Middle school aged kids get a bad rap according to Judith Warner, author of “And Then They Stopped Talking to Me: Making Sense of Middle School.” Warner’s experience as a mother and her subsequent research for her book changed the way she viewed this age group.

Parents of Middle School Kids Feel Alone

Warner realized that parents stopped talking about their kids with each other as they grew older, creating a feeling of isolation. Instead of being able to compare behaviors or commiserate, parents were unable to get help and did not realize that other families were having similar experiences.

The emphasis on social relationships at this age is also hard on parents. While being present is an important way to coach kids through the perils of middle school, being too enmeshed in their lives causes problems. Warner found that kids are able to get over awkward or hurtful situations more quickly than their parents, who tend to hold grudges. Constant questioning also can exacerbate a child’s discomfort.

Parenting Middle School Kids in a Pandemic

In our current reality, parents have to be and do everything for kids who want nothing to do with us. On a good day, getting kids to do things that they don’t want to do is tough, but now when everything is off, it’s even more difficult.

Some schools eased up on the pressure, which is fantastic. They realize that it’s “not humanly possible” for parents to work, take care of the home, and manage their kids’ schooling. Warner strongly encourages parents to live by the mantra, “I will do the best I can.”

Changing Our Perspective about Middle School Kids

1. Expand the definition of “normal”

We need to broaden our acceptance of what’s “normal” at this age. Each middle school kid has a different experience. There is enormous variability when it comes to when and how kids mature yet we spend a lot of time and energy worrying about whether our kids is too mature or not mature enough.

2. Raise our expectations

This is an easy one since so many people view middle school kids as “sociopathic monsters.” But we create what we expect. While the social relationships consume our kids, we can remind and encourage them to continue to pursue the hobbies and activities that bring them joy. We can also recognize and help them develop their untapped strengths during this time.

3. Give ourselves grace

There will be times when your child is rude or disrespectful or unkind to you. It’s normal. They are figuring out how to separate from you. It’s the process they have to go through to become themselves. All parents can do is not take it personally. It’s not a sign that you’ve failed as a parent.

Susan Borison, mother of five, is the founder and editor of Your Teen Media. Because parenting teenagers is humbling and shouldn’t be tackled alone.

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