Playing an Appropriate Role in Your Middle Schooler’s Life
This is the first of a four-part series on the subject of overparenting. Stay tuned over the next couple of weeks for posts on how to play an appropriate role in your child’s college admission process, college finance process, and in the life of your college student.
Middle school is usually the time when you may look at your child and think, “Who is this stranger in my house? Where did my little one go?” You may experience much more defiance, negotiating, and testing of boundaries. As frustrated as it makes parents, this behavior is completely normal and even necessary when kids are just beginning to figure out who they are. Middle schoolers need to establish their independence. The growth is intense for your middle schooler—physically, emotionally, and neurologically. Overparenting, however, can make this transition even tougher. Here, we consider the consequences of overparenting in three different spheres of your middle schooler’s life:
At Home—You may be used to laying out the rules and having your elementary school student follow along. But in middle school, kids’ peers become much more influential, whether parents like it or not. Keeping up an authoritarian rule will usually backfire. If you continue to try to drive most of their decisions about where to go, what to do, and who to see, you may be sending a subtle message that you don’t trust your child to make these choices for themselves. Middle school is the right time to change your parenting style from managing to mentoring. Keep lines of communication wide open and try to listen more than you talk. Easy? No. But it is probably what your child needs at this stage of life.
At School—Teachers are looking for middle school students to be autonomous with their work. They will assign overlapping projects that demand organization and independent thought. Many parents worry that if their kids don’t pass in the daily homework, completed and stamped with the parental seal of approval, the student might fail by getting a weaker grade. Some moms and dads routinely end up finishing the homework under the pretext of ‘helping.’ The problem with this kind of overparenting is that the student learns less when they aren’t forced to figure it out themselves, both in terms of the academic concepts and practicing organization, time management, and perseverance. Middle school provides a safe environment to make mistakes that will not have long term impact so students discover what they are capable of doing on their own.
In Activities—Many parents are looking for the way to give their child ‘a leg up’ in certain activities, whether it’s extra math on the weekends, year-round athletics, or requiring extraordinary hours of service. These same parents hope this extra push (whether the student has genuine interest or not) will lead to an advanced talent in high school that will then stand out in college applications. As you might guess, middle school students need to drive these choices as well. When kids try lots of new things and use a variety of skills, they are bound to land on something that builds confidence. Students invest themselves most fully when they pursue activities they truly enjoy, and colleges do not prefer certain pursuits over others. Allow your child to tell you what they feel good doing and encourage more of it. When students find their passions, they often figure out unique ways to make their mark.
All in all, remember this is a time period of immense growth for your child—and it won’t last forever.