Middle school can be tough on both parents and kids. It's
a time of drastic change. Not only are kids moving on to new
schools with older students, but they also are going through
physical and emotional development that, at times, can seem
"It's this weird time where they are forced to evolve into the
adult world, start taking responsibility for academics and classes
changing, but also bodies and friendships are changing at the same
time," says Haley Kilpatrick,
The Drama Years and the founder of Girl
While your child will be facing some of the same issues as
past generations, the way they navigate the halls will be much
"A lot has changed for middle school in general," says
Kristen Blair, co-author of From Santa to
Sexting. "It has always been a time of drama, drama,
drama. But what we heard during our interviews with parents and
educators is that middle-schoolers today are bombarded by outside
pressures. In fact, we heard that word `bombarded' repeatedly. And
that stems primarily from technology and media and the pervasive
role that has in kids' lives."
To help, Blair encourages parents to wait until high
school to give their child a cellphone.
"I know that the trend is moving ever younger in terms of
cellphone ownership," Blair says, "but
middle-schoolers generally do not possess the maturity and
self-control to use some of these tools safely and
Blair also advocates waiting until high school to get
involved with social media.
"(Parents and kids) need to view the Internet and social
networking sites as public spaces where the footprint never fades
and understand that anything kids post can follow them for years to
come," Blair says.
Technology in middle schools also has led to an increase
in cyber bullying.
According to Catherine DePino, author of Who Says Bullies Rule?, this is
the most prevalent kind of bullying today.
DePino encourages parents to keep dated records of any
bullying incident. Once it is reported to the school, ask for a
timeline to know how the situation will be handled and
If your child encounters a bully at school, DePino says
it's important for them to use short phrases and talk firmly. The
point is to appear tough without appearing aggressive.
Chicago-area child and adolescent therapist Kristen
Jacobsen says communication between parents and their child is key
when it comes to bullying.
"For parents, (it's important) to have an open dialogue
with their kids about it, maybe even before it happens, just so
they have an awareness of it," Jacobsen says. "If they
are the bully, it's important for them to understand how it makes
the victim feel and what they are doing as the
Through all of this change, your child's friendships will
become one of the most important aspects of their life.
Middle-schoolers are more influenced by their peers than at any
"What is best for kids in terms of friendship security and
fulfillment are what experts call `friendship circles,'"
Blair says. "They're based not on popularity, but rather on
shared interests and common experiences, where kids can be
themselves and they're not constantly jockeying for position or
worried about being knocked down the hierarchy."
No matter your child's friend group, they might experience
friendship drama. Kilpatrick says it's important to remember that
these problems are very real to them, even if they seem silly as a
"They have tunnel vision and cannot see the light at the
end of the road," Kilpatrick says. "...If more girls
could learn to really love each other through these years and face
what it is they're dealing with head on, there would be a lot less
If self-esteem and body image become an issue for your
child, Jacobsen says combating that begins at home from an early
"(Parents should) make their positive reinforcement and
encouragement specific and instill in the child that they are worth
something," Jacobsen says. "If they have that sense of
self, even if they do encounter some negative peer interaction,
they will be able to bounce back and have a little more resiliency
than some of the other kids who maybe didn't have that growing
Through it all, know that the best way to help your child
is by being there for them. And remember, these years won't last
"Be the parent, not the buddy," Blair says.
"Role reversal never works. Your child needs you to be the parent.
And take heart. Middle-schoolers may act like they can't stand you
and they don't want to be with you, but they do. Their hearts need
Anna Carlson is a former Chicago Parent intern who recently graduated from the University of Missouri.
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