Three Tips for Raising Middle Schoolers
By Jane Parent
A bad grade. A forgotten assignment. A missed bus. An extracurricular screw up. Whatever it is, failure isn’t easy for the struggling middle school student. It’s pretty tough for the parents too. Still, learning to deal with life’s ups and downs is important. In fact, our adolescents must experience these challenges.
Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair, clinical psychologist and author, has advice. She knows how to guide parents to raise strong, savvy, and resilient children. Steiner-Adair offers three top tips for you to consider when it comes to raising middle schoolers.
1. Let Them Deal With It
Today, parents are trying to shield their kids from experiencing failure. In fact, kids need to learn to deal with disappointment. If your child does poorly on a test—because they were sick or didn’t prepare—then they need to deal with the consequences. When parents fear that one low grade will ruin their child’s future, they do crazy things. (You probably have a friend with a crazy story.) But your children will not learn to be resilient if you constantly take the bumps out of the road. And, you definitely want a child with resilience.
Kids need to learn that the choices they make have consequences. They have to make repeated mistakes. And, parents cannot obsess on the D or F. Repeating tenth grade geometry is not a disaster. Even though you suffer when your kid is miserable, this is how your child will build character, independence, and maturity.
Even twenty years ago, if a kid got a D on the test, parents would have said, “Study harder next time.” 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 even though your child will resent you. Sometimes your child will say, “I hate you,” or “You’re the worst parent ever.” You’ll also hear the “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. We want our kids to learn to work hard, and that hard work pays off. When you pave the way for them, you are depriving them of very important social and emotional tools for life. Make them get a job. Encourage them to take care of other people and not just themselves. 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.
So how do we do that? Well, we might need to learn some new responses. When we praise, we need to value our teenager’s effort versus the outcome (the grade, the win, etc.). If your teenager gets an A, you can say, “Wow, you worked hard and the results show.” If it’s a poor job, you could, say “Wow that grade really seems to be upsetting you.” Or, with empathy you say, “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.”
Teach Resilience, Perseverance, and Grit
Research from the field of positive psychology tells us what successful people look like. They have self-control and communicate their feelings respectfully. They’ve learned know how to be a team player and have a strong work ethic. Most importantly, they show resilience, perseverance, and grit. Successful people know how to completely crash and get right back up. They are optimistic and experience joy and gratitude. These are traits we know that kids need in order to succeed. Truthfully, shielding your child from rejection, disappointment, and failure will never teach those traits.
Jane Parent is a freelance writer in Northeast Ohio and frequent contributor to Your Teen.