No matter where your child attends school – at home, around the corner or elsewhere – the move to middle school is a BIG transition. Suddenly your child is a little more grown up. They get jokes they didn’t get before. They make jokes they would not have made before. They ask to do things you thought were far off in the future – group dates, attending concerts, taking long bike rides without you! It’s brave new territory. But, if, like the majority of parents you’re seeking to raise an independent, self-reliant adult, you are forced to venture into things unknown at just about the time your child hits middle school age. What’s a parent to do???
While you may find yourself enjoying the more grown-up version of your child, take caution. First, you are just now getting wee glimpses into the adult your child might become. It’s refreshing – especially with your oldest child – to move beyond Disney movies and basic chapter books. It’s fun to have increasingly more adult-ish discussions and to share humor that does not involve the words “knock-knock.” However, this is the time to be clear, very clear about what’s acceptable in your home and what is not. Middle schoolers will often share things that are funny – but not appropriate. It’s fine if you laugh, but then you need to shake it off and explain why you don’t tell those kinds of jokes in your house. If you can find the right balance while your child is in middle school, high school, with its ever-increasing freedoms, will feel much more comfortable to you, the parent. Try these three tips to (as Barney Fife used to say) nip it in the bud.
- Discuss Language – Every family differs on what constitutes acceptable language. Talk to your partner and decide what will be acceptable in your house. In some families the word f-a-r-t is unacceptable (just ask my mom). In other families, “freakin’” is okay as an adjective. Kids are going to learn curse words. I think that’s fine – if nothing else they should learn to use them in context to avoid looking like an idiot. However, make it clear that you know they know these words, BUT those are not words you use in the presence of adults or small children EVER. Or, you might be okay with an occasional “dammit.” You set the limits. Middle school is the time to do this.
- Set Rules for Electronics – Middle school is the age many families opt to get their child a phone. While your sixth grader might not be too interested in anything beyond the games he can play on his phone, that is going to change. Better to have rules in place before you are calling some strange girl’s parents asking why she is allowed to text your son at 2 am. Make it a family habit to put up the phones at 8 p.m. If your children have internet access, televisions, video games, etc. in their bedrooms, disable connections at a set time. Better yet, centralize gaming, television and internet within your house. Tweens and teens are curious. If whatever they’re doing is in the middle of your house, where anyone can walk by, they are likely to be more cautious.
- Talk About Dating – In sixth grade, most kids aren’t yet obsessed with the opposite sex. Don’t let that stop you from having some general rules for dating. Don’t let that stop you from talking about those rules. It will vary from family to family. There are the families that prefer courtship to dating. On the other end you have families that are fine with 11-12 year olds going on group dates. Decide what feels right to you NOW – you can always change rules as time goes on. Kids who know what is okay and what is not okay are far less likely to stray into “I didn’t know” territory. Additionally, get in the habit of calling at least one other family to confirm plans if your child is setting off for an evening. It’s nice to get to know other parents and it lets your child know you’re paying attention.
It’s easier to start off on the strict end of the “oh-my-gosh-they-are-really-growing-up” spectrum than it is to have to wind kids back into the fold. Talk about things now before they’re an issue and you’ll be better prepared to handle middle and high school.
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