Middle school started off great for my daughter.
In sixth grade, she loved her teachers, enjoyed the new flexibility of her schedule, and found a nice group of girls to eat lunch with each day. She enjoyed the extracurricular activities and did well in school. Life was good.I started wondering what all the fuss was about—middle school didn’t seem so bad.
It was only a week into seventh grade when everything started to fall apart.
She was worried about the fact that none of her friends were in any of her classes. There was more homework. Her lunch group scattered and was sitting elsewhere. There was a sudden interest by many of her peers in the opposite sex and Instagram and shows on Netflix we had never heard of.
By the sixth day of school, she broke down in tears at the kitchen counter over her math homework.
“What is wrong,” I asked as gently as I could.
“I don’t know,” she sobbed.
I started to walk over to console her, but my once even-keeled, self-confident tween wanted none of it. And with that she picked up her book and trudged up to her room, not coming out again until dinner, when she was all smiles and everything appeared right in her world again.
The phone that was mainly used for emergencies in sixth grade became more like an appendage. I found myself constantly hoping that other parents were monitoring behavior like I was—but after seeing what came across her screen, I was convinced they were not. Mean girls began to emerge in group texts and I heard about some awful behavior from kids in her grade from other parents.
School also became overwhelming for her. Keeping track of her studies, extracurricular activities, and social calendar was a challenge. Yet, she wasn’t open to letting us help her either.
My daughter walked around our house like a ticking time bomb.
Some days she was an effervescent young girl wanting to play outside or snuggle up to watch a movie with her family. Others, she sulked in her room and fired snarky quips to anyone who dared get in her path.
While I was quick to blame hormones, that’s far from the only thing going on with kids at this age. I talked to a good friend, who also happens to be a pediatrician, and she shared that 12- and 13-year old kids don’t have all their wires connected yet–the pre-frontal lobe of their brain, which manages impulse control, predicting consequences and planning ahead, is not fully developed.
Worse, seventh grade is when so many kids start losing their own identity to fit in with their peer group. At a time when girls are feeling their most awkward with growing breasts, braces and growth spurts, and boys are recognizing the differences amongst each other–all they want to do is blend in with everyone else.
So, what’s a parent to do?
How To Survive Seventh Grade With Your Tween
All hope is not lost. It’s not easy, but both you and your tween can come out the other side of seventh grade relatively unscathed. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
Don’t take it personally.
Even though it hurts when your son snubs you off in front of his friends or your daughter shoots word arrows, recognize that it’s a reaction to something else and not directed at you. Don’t engage, and don’t think that by giving the same back to them they will understand how it feels and stop. This is the time to act like a grown up and turn the other cheek.
Relinquish some control.
At the beginning of seventh grade, my daughter begged me to dye her blue hair, but I truly did not want her to do it. At the last second, I gave her permission and her joy became mine. Seventh grade is the time tweens start craving some semblance of control over their identity. By letting them make some choices, you lend balance to the relationship.
Sometimes you have to ask yourself, “Why am I saying no?” If it is because of your own personal preference or if you are worried about how it will reflect on you, it may be time to reconsider.
Set reasonable limits.
I found my daughter wanted more autonomy, but still thrived with boundaries and structure. I loosened the rules in some areas, like what shows she could watch and letting her go certain places with her friends independently, but kept the reigns tighter when it came to technology usage and sleep schedules.
Understanding where you child is at developmentally and what sorts of external factors impact their behavior can help you determine what kind of rules you should set and where you can be a little more flexible.
Don’t be a fixer.
It’s hard not to sweep in and try to make everything better for your child—especially when you know they are hurting. Sometimes you just have to let your kids fail even though as a parent it’s the hardest thing to do. Let your son or daughter learn from their mistakes, learn how to take accountability for their actions and learn to overcome obstacles on their own.
This is the time when they need to develop the resilience to stand back up when life knocks them down again and again. They’ll see they can withstand heartbreak and loss and grief. Then they’ll discover their inner courage to take risks and make mistakes—and what comes next. The struggle is what will define them and what will allow them to grow.
Remember, if you fix their problems today, where will that leave them tomorrow?
Bite your tongue.
I used to needle my daughter with questions when I knew she was upset, often providing anecdotes from my past in a futile attempt to try and connect with her. Now, when I see she is in a mood, I grab a stash of chocolate chip cookies, pour her a glass of milk, and just sit near her. If she wants to talk, she’ll eventually start chatting with me. If not, I patiently wait for my next opportunity.
Seventh grade is hard because kids are so insecure and their peers are lashing out from their own hurt. Tweens this age need compassion and empathy on their terms.
We got through seventh grade, but it took a lot of effort. You will too!
Parenting Teens and Tweens is a tough job, but here’s a little more support to help you out: