If you’re a parent of a middle schooler, welcome to the club of parenting The Misunderstood.
At a minimum, you were born in the 80s and quite possibly the 70s. Seriously, that was like, forever ago, so you – and I – couldn’t possibly understand what it’s like to be twelve, or thirteen, or even fourteen. As my son likes to quip, “What was it like before color TV?”
To which I respond, “How long do you want to be grounded?”
Here’s the truth, we were all there once, in middle school. Yes, it was a bit of time ago. While the memories may be fuzzy, we too thought our parents didn’t “get it,” and we argued with them in hopes they would. Shocker, I know. Still, it’s enlightening to be on the other side of those arguments now. Parents do understand. They do get it. Except things really are different now.
Middle school is rough. Hormones rage. Friendships waffle. Finding their place in the world is ever in flux. In the era of social media and electronics, peer pressure and bullying come in different forms than they did back then. Not only that, it doesn’t end once they leave the school. It follows on their phone, or gaming device, or lack thereof. Comparison is even more amplified nowadays and therefore felt more deeply. Lucky us, we parents tend to get the brunt of all of this, usually in the form of raised voices and slamming doors.
When you and your middle schooler have a disagreement and before it accelerates into WWIII, try to remember these tips:
It’s not about you. Your child is upset. They simply want to be heard. You spent their elementary years building up their confidence and ability to speak out and speak up. Guess what? It’s paying off and yes, you are the first person that’ll experience that, because you’re their “safe” person.
Give them space and time to voice their side of the story/concern/argument. Listen to what they have to say and how they say it. Body language is important, too.
I’ll be the first to admit (and my 13-year-old son will back me), when I am ready to be done with the argument, I attempt to shut down the conversation. “It’s annoying when you refuse to hear the kid’s side of the story,” he said. Sometimes, the end result will be the same no matter what his defense is, and while I know that, he still wants the respect of being heard.
Breathe. Listen. Breathe again.
Refrain from raising your voice to match their tone. You’re the adult here. You’re still teaching them, whether they – or you – realize it. If you elevate your voice to match theirs, they’ll learn that technique is acceptable. While the loudest wheel tends to get the most oil, in the real world, people prefer to work with others who are less abrasive and can keep disagreements in the discussion category.
In addition, per my own middle schooler’s words:
“Don’t raise your voice if I haven’t raised mine. It signals you’re frustrated and then I become frustrated.”
The irony of using the above word is not lost on me. Understand that sometimes your child is responding to changes and situations outside of both of your control. While the current argument is about the fact he hasn’t done his chores for the third day in a row, he’s yelling because his hormones are messing with him, or he’s preoccupied with something his friend said that has him confused, or he’s stressing about that teacher that seems to have it out for him.
There are times when I find myself yelling about something unintentionally because my mind is elsewhere. It’s the same for them. All the more reason to keep the first two tips in mind.
All of that said, you are still the parent. If your current argument is about the consequence of a poor decision, the consequence remains no matter what. Parent first. Be their friend second. It’s hard and at times, breaks your heart to see them upset, but they need to learn this. They will be better because of it. To help, have a clear expectation of what is expected from them, and the consequences for not meeting those expectations.
Whether or not your argument blows the roof off your house, it’s healthy that upon the conclusion of the disagreement, you both take some time to cool down. Afterward, reconnect. Apologize if necessary. Share a hug, but only if no one’s watching – especially anyone they know.