Parenting an adolescent isn’t easy.
We have heard all the horror stories of drama, disrespect, and general disinterest, particularly during middle school.
But, often, such tales of teenage turbulence are wildly exaggerated. Tweens and teens may have a reputation for unsettling their parents and wreaking havoc on family life, but that doesn’t have to be a given. While it can feel like an emotional roller coaster, many families come out of the tween and teen years even closer.
I’ve been reading and researching behavior trends and parenting skills from trusted experts (you know, people who actually observe and spend time with teens regularly) to gather all their best tips.
I’ve noticed that ten tips keep reappearing, which tells me that they’ve got some staying power.
Although not an exhaustive list, these ten ideas can be part of your parenting strategy as your kids enter the teen years and will help you navigate these new waters. There is no magic formula that guarantees positive results, but putting in some extra effort can’t hurt.
Good parents can still have teens that make bad choices. Fantastic parents can still have a child that rebels and struggles, while less-than-stellar parenting can produce exceptional adolescents. I’m sure you can think of examples of both in your life.
Just remember that there are NO perfect parents or children, but there are tons of really great ones. Here are some ways to help bring the best out of both of you.
Ten tips to help you stay close during middle school and beyond
1. Take An Interest In Their Interests
This might seem obvious, especially if you have a younger child. Many kids tend to start by sharing the same interests as their parents. But as they grow and mature, kids begin to pursue their own passions, which may differ from what a parent is passionate about. My teen loves all things theater; Broadway musicals, fine arts, even opera. These are not areas that my husband naturally gravitates towards or has a lot of knowledge about, but he has made an effort to learn more to engage in conversations with her about the things that she is involved with and loves.
This one applies at all stages of parenting, but it is critical during the tween and teen years. Let go of things that don’t have a long-term impact on your child, like the cut/color of their hair, the outlandish things theymay say, or even some questionable fashion choices they make.
If you constantly dictate what they can or can’t do on every front, you weaken your overall authority and their resepct for you. You may find your kids are afraid to come to you about things and that they start lying or being outright defiant.
A more productive strategy is to allow them more freedom on things that aren’t as important, so that when you have to say “NO” it means something to them.
3. Employ Other Adults
We all want our kids to come to us with their problems and worries, and it is hard to encourage them to go to someone else with their problems, but sometimes adolescents need other trusted adults to talk with about their problems. It might be because they don’t want to disappoint you, they don’t want a lecture, or they believe that you will not take them seriously.
While you work on your relationship with them (or your own issues) surround your teen with other adults you trust so that when difficulties arise, there is an adult besides a parent to confide in. This can be extended family members, coaches, or even fellow parents of teens. Many times, having the option to talk something out with an adult other than mom or dad can be pretty freeing and remove the threat of overreaction that parents sometimes experience.
We let my daughter know there were three other women that we had faith in to provide sound guidance she could always go to if she didn’t want to come to us with questions or issues. Often, another source giving the same counsel you might is more impactful because they’re not the parent. Definitely a better solution than soliciting advice from her peers.
4. Emphasize Building Trust through Small Actions
Teach your kids to be observant of other people’s behavior. For example, a boy who isn’t respectful to his mom, may not be respectful to other women. A girl who is constantly sarcastic or demeaning to her friends may act that way with your child.
Let your big kids know that you’re watching their (and their peers) behavior as an indicator of how they will behave when there is no supervision. Knowing that a parent can trust their middle schooler with small things, like keeping up with household chores or schoolwork, equals trust with bigger things down the road, like borrowing the car or setting a curfew time.
We also can’t talk about trust without talking about electronics. Yes, most of us try to set our tweens up with rules for tech usage, but they are still kids. In fact, tweens and teens are in a developmental stage that causes them to be wired to do dumb stuff because their brains aren’t fully formed yet. So, instead of equating trust with blind faith and total freedom, why not trust them within the boundaries of their life experience and brain development?
We believe that middle schoolers should not have social media, but if you do allow it (and we understand that certain circumstances may cause you to choose this path), we recommend Bark, a service that monitors your kid’s online activity for potential dangers, filters out websites you don’t want them visiting, and even helps you set healthy screen time limits to give them that all-too-important digital downtime! 🙌
Trust is challenging to build but easy to destroy–a good point for them to understand from the beginning.
5. Be Specific When Setting Boundaries
If your tween is going to a movie with friends, be crystal clear in your expectations: that they’re viewing the agreed-upon showing and will be picked up at a specific time at a specific location. It’s a tween and teen’s job to push limits, and a parent’s job to set boundaries.
Letting them out of the car and saying, “See ya’ at 10 pm” is open to a variety of interpretations about what your expectations are versus what they heard. When the boundaries are clear, there isn’t room for teen interpretation of schedules, like “There weren’t any good seats left at that showing, so we just walked around, and then we weren’t hungry, so we walked to Starbucks and hung out.”
As a parent, you have a right to know where your kids are. Having clear and consistent boundaries is the best way to set the tone for high school and beyond.
6. Let Them FAIL!
This one seems especially difficult for modern parents. Forgotten term papers, misplaced items, or missed deadlines are things all kids need to experience during these years. When parents constantly rescue their big kids from the natural consequences of life they’re actually harming their child’s development.
Learning to deal with failure, disappointment, and coping skills create resilience, responsibility, and adaptability. By removing obstacles or covering irresponsible behavior, parents unintentionally communicate that their teen isn’t capable of responsibility and needs an adult to straighten kinks out in a given situation.
Think about your own life, the lessons that stuck with you the most are the ones that you learned via experience. Sometimes we have to let our kids deal with the after-effects of their bad decisions so let your teens feel the sting of failure.
7. Show Grace In Unexpected Situations
Don’t confuse this one with the “rescue” we talked about earlier. Showing grace isn’t something that you need to do in every situation with your tween; negative consequences are part of life, and enforcing them helps teach appropriate behavior.
Grace is giving a pardon even though an undesirable outcome is warranted. If your daughter has been responsible about unloading the dishwasher but forgets that day, instead of doling out the usual consequence (like no electronics that evening), offer grace instead. If she frequentlyforgets, then it’s not about grace because she hasn’t shown responsibility in that area.
It’s important that we remember all that is going on with their tween brain, their bodies, and other areas of development. Sometimes they may not even know why they are crying or lashing out.
Everyone makes mistakes, perfection is not the goal, and this is one way to communicate that.
8. Never Demean Your Tween
Talking down to and belittling anyone isn’t appropriate behavior. If that is what you’re modeling, there’s a pretty good assumption that’s what you’re going to experience in your relationships. Lording authority, humiliating in public or private, and overusing sarcasm can all harm an adolescent’s psyche and destroy the trust placed in an adult.
Telling a kid they’re a miserable failure isn’t motivation for behavior change but definitely fertile grounds for rebellion.
9. If At All Possible, STAY AVAILABLE
They may act like they don’t care if you attend their games, performances, or award ceremonies, but it does matter. Just because they’ve grown taller doesn’t mean their need for support has grown smaller. Your presence matters, regardless of what they may say.
Stay involved, show interest, and participate in their lives. When they come into a room, put down what you are doing and focus on them. Show curiosity about their interests. If possible, drive carpools. These are all great ways to stay connected.
10. Don’t Give Up On Them
There will be rough patches, times that you’re ready to throw in the towel, and pretty much wish that college would come sooner so they’d get the heck out of your house. The one thing tweens and teens need however, is an unconditional belief in their goodness.
Take a breath. Remember those newborn days with the non-stop crying and no sleep? You were overwhelmed and exhausted and felt like quitting, but you hung in there.
Find that place of courage again and keep going. Hope, believe, and continue to do the right thing, no one on this earth loves your child as much as you do and your teen need to know you’ll always be there.
You can’t abolish the consequences of their actions, but you can walk through those difficulties alongside them.
More resources for parenting middle schoolers
Middle school can be a tough time for kids and their parents. We like this book by author Phyllis Fagel, Middle School Superpowers: Raising Resilient Tweens in Turbulent Times. From the author of Middle School Matters, discover how to bolster any middle schooler’s resilience by leveraging the 12 Middle School Superpowers they need to manage disappointment, self-regulate emotions, take healthy risks, and recover from any setback.
Parenting teens and tweens is hard, but these popular posts other parents found helpful can make it easier:
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