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Published June 03, 2013, 11:35 PM

Parenting Perspectives: Don’t knock middle school

You’d think as adults we’d know better. But why is it when it comes to communicating with younger generations we sometimes just plain blow it? When they’re little, it’s easy. Ask them their favorite color or how old they are and you can get a nice conversation going, sometimes peppered with wildly off-topic comments: “My friend Aidan’s grandpa wears an eyepatch, but he’s not a pirate.”

By: Tracy Briggs, INFORUM

You’d think as adults we’d know better. But why is it when it comes to communicating with younger generations we sometimes just plain blow it? When they’re little, it’s easy. Ask them their favorite color or how old they are and you can get a nice conversation going, sometimes peppered with wildly off-topic comments: “My friend Aidan’s grandpa wears an eyepatch, but he’s not a pirate.”

When they’re older it’s not bad either. You can ask high school students about their extracurriculars and college students the much-dreaded, but conversation starting, “what’s your major?”

It’s those middle school-age kids that are the challenge. What do you say to them? How do you relate to an age-group whose sole purpose is to be cool and you, just by being born prior to 1990, are so not? There’s always music. Could we talk about that? Are the Jonas Brothers still in? Maybe. How about all of those British little cutie boy bands: One Direction? The Wanted.? (You realize though, those little cutie boys automatically lose a few popularity points when a mom tries to talk about them.) It’s hard to open your mouth when you think you might get an eyeroll.

But as we grownups struggle to converse with tweens I hope we can stay strong and resist the urge to fall into a very common conversation trap. When talking to middle schoolers, especially those just going into middle school, can we please not say, “OH, I HATED MIDDLE SCHOOL.I WOULDN’T GO BACK IF YOU PAID ME!”

In the last two weeks, our family has attended a couple of functions with large numbers of fifth-graders and their parents. At both events, adults stood in front of the students and talked about their dislike for middle school and what the students would be facing next year. The message was clear, “you’re in for a rough couple of years.” My daughter got in the car and sarcastically said, “Well, that was encouraging.”

It felt like “Scared Straight.” Why do we want to be so doom and gloom with kids? And before you call me a Pollyanna who wants to protect her baby from the nastiness of the world, I don’t believe sugarcoating the adolescent years is the way to go either. Middle school can be a really tough time. It’s a Valleyfair roller coaster ride of hormones, insecurity, acne, confusion, and bullying, all while trying to navigate life with one foot in childhood and the other in adulthood. We need to prepare students for the challenges they’ll face, but it’s just as important to raise them up to their limitless possibilities. Middle school can also be a time of incredible personal growth and friendship development. A chance to expand horizons and try new things without the pressures of high school. Just compare a child’s fifth-grade school picture to his or her picture entering ninth grade and you can see the immense amount of growth and change the middle school years bring. How can that not be just a little exciting? Can’t we share that with them?

I would bet if you ask most people about their middle school years and they really thought long and hard about it, they would remember it wasn’t ALL bad. Most of us, could recall both good and bad memories.

I remember the insecurities: being the shortest kid in gym class, hating that my hair wouldn’t flip like Farrah Fawcett’s and looking at my picture in the seventh-grade yearbook and realizing it was the single worst photo ever taken of a human being. But I also remember the fun: laughing until I cried with my good friends Sheryl and Lisa, eating those really yummy chocolate cookies we had in the cafeteria and debating who was cuter: Shaun Cassidy or Andy Gibb. (That’s a tough one.)

Remember, many of these kids don’t have preconceived ideas of middle school. Some have older brothers and sisters who have told them things. But for the most part, many of these kids have nothing to go on but what we adults tell them. That’s an awesome responsibility – one we should take seriously. Everything they’ve taken for granted about school from the time they lifted that first crayon in kindergarten is about to change. The security of elementary school is over. They face a bigger school, with more students and new classes. They’re nervous enough already. What we say to them matters. Why cast a die of negativity before they step in the door?

So this summer while you run across these middle schoolers at family gatherings, sporting events, or parties at the lake, don’t fall into the trap of “You’re in middle school? Oh, you poor thing!”

You might think it’s true, but for the sake of some already nervous kids, bury your bad memories with your awkward yearbook photos. Try to give them a little encouragement. Positive words from a few adults can mean the world to a kid. And if all else fails, you could always try to engage them in the whole Shaun or Andy debate.

Tracy Briggs is a mother of two and is an employee of Forum Communications Co. She can be reached at tracy.briggs@forumcomm.com.

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