Middle schoolers are a tricky bunch. They’re constantly changing, and you never know what they’ll be like from one day to the next. It’s difficult to keep up with them at times, but it doesn’t have to be that way! Here are some great tips for connecting and keeping the communication open with your middle school child – without losing your mind in the process.
How to Connect With Your Middle Schooler: Tips for Parents
Take a genuine interest in what your middle schooler child is interested in.
The word, “genuine” is important here. You can’t fake this, or our young teens will see right through it. Listen to songs they like and ask them about their favorite artists. You never know, they may also be curious to know what your favorite songs and artists were when you were in middle school. Or, find out what your child’s favorite movie is and ask them if they want to plan a movie night, you’ll bring the popcorn. Remember to put your phone away for this one; our middle school kids notice if we are truly watching the movie or just sitting there distracted. Stay involved with their activities, such as their sports team, music or art lessons, clubs, etc., and use them to have a conversation. It’s through talking with your kids that they will learn your values and what’s important. If you’re not currently involved in your child’s activities, ask them if they’d like for you to join. If not, look into other parent volunteer opportunities (such as coaching a team, helping out with their after school activities and interests, or serving on the school Parent Teacher Organization).
Keep up with the latest teens pop culture or social media trends
Not all parents realize the importance of this. Let’s face it, the seventh grade trends are not that interesting to us and we have far better things to do in our busy lives until a parent witnesses their child viewing something or searching up something they learned about or overheard from school or other students. Research shows that our kids end up seeking advice or help from their friends because they know their parents are afraid (perhaps based on our own painful memories from school). If we stay ahead of the game, we can ask questions to show our kids we know what’s going on and talk to them when they have tough questions. A recent instance where this worked out this school year is when I brought up Squid Game (a new popular adult Netflix series) to my kids to see their reactions. Even though they have not seen it; I knew the talk of it was out there AND it’s even referenced now in online “kid-appropriate” games. It turned out they had heard of it amongst their peer group and I was able to clear up what it was and how it was inappropriate for them (and other kids their age) to watch. Point is, if you keep your ears open and ask your kids questions (remember eye contact), often it will open up to a healthy and necessary conversation.
If your middle school child is online or savvy to social media for social connection, it’s important you pay attention and know all the different apps and tricks. For instance, did you know there’s an app that looks purely innocent but has two passwords so they can hide info on the password they don’t share with you? Take a deep breath, this is just to encourage you to have your kid connect with YOU more than they connect with their device.
Teach and do things together.
Whether it’s cooking dinner, learning the guitar, or reading a book; try to find something that is your child’s passion and you can share together. Or, better yet, ask your child to teach YOU how to do something they love. Not only will this help strengthen your relationship, but it will also help your child strengthen their ability in that particular skill. Make sure to reciprocate the teaching by teaching them how to cook and clean up after themselves. Giving your tween or teen the skills to be self-sufficient is necessary to both build their confidence, mutual respect, and support learning how to take care of themselves. Many parents naturally do this with the second or third child and don’t support this as much with their first-born, so it’s important parents take note and it’s never too late to teach them these basic skills.
What about planning a vacation or stay-cation together? Let your middle schooler take the reigns and plan something that would be fun for them and your entire family. It’s always interesting what they choose to do. For an added challenge, give your children a budget to work with or say it can’t cost anything. Have them do some research and present their findings and ideas in a brochure or presentation for the family.
Along the same lines of planning together, many families find it necessary to create a weekly or monthly calendar. This should include regular weekly school activities and practices and you can work together to include activities that benefit the entire family, but also something your middle schooler would enjoy. Better yet, have them take ownership of one or two events they’d like to participate in and ask for their input on all other decisions.
Take advantage of opportunities to connect when they come up (ask about their day, offer advice, give genuine compliments).
Entering their room unannounced and doing the TV, video game or laptop shuffle will never be effective. Kids are not likely to open up in these conditions so it’s important that you create opportunities for them to do so at times when they feel comfortable enough with you. Ask your children how school is going. It’s important to ask open-ended questions here that your middle schooler can’t answer with a simple yes or no. Some questions you can ask your kids are: “What classes do you like/dislike this school year, any teachers who are hard to work with, what did you think of your English class?” or “Who did you sit with at lunch today?” This can open up the door for them to share what’s going on in their social circle or school without feeling like they are being interrogated. Make a concerted effort to actively listen and be present when your kids do choose to talk with you so that they will naturally want to talk more. Even just asking if you can help your child with anything or if they want to talk will show that you are there for them and ready to listen.
Although it may seem that your tween or teen doesn’t want a compliment from you, it’s still important to give them genuine compliments. Find something you like about their outfit, the new band they listen to, or even how much time and effort they put into a homework assignment and tell them why it means so much to you that they are doing well in school.
As hard as it is for some parents, try not to take it personally when your tween or teen says they don’t want to spend time with you or share their feelings. This is a typical stage in development, and it is a sign that they are progressing as other kids their age would.
More than any other age group, middle schoolers crave and need connection. They’re trying to figure out who they are in this huge world we live in, and it’s often hard for them to find their place among all the new information coming at them from every direction. The best way you can help your child get through these years without losing your mind is by taking an interest in what they’re interested in (and staying on top of pop culture trends!) It also helps if you spend time with them – no matter how busy life gets. When you take that extra step and make a genuine effort to connect with your child when opportunities present themselves, they’ll feel loved and more confident about where they belong.
Erin Hansen is the Owner of Middle School Life Coach and is a nationally recognized middle school education expert and educator. Her career spans over 25 years as a teacher, coach, and presenter on the topic of connecting with middle school students. Erin has taught the children of celebrities and public figures such as Reba McEntire, Gene Simmons, Hugh Heffner, Shaquille O’Neal, Eddie Murphy, Demi Moore, Bruce Willis, and Courtney Cox.
Erin participates in talks and speaking engagements for parents and organizations. In addition to teaching and coaching, she also works as a professional life coach with Tony Robbins’ organization – coaching parents and families on how to connect despite this awkward time between childhood and adolescence. She wants to change lives, connect people, and help them understand each other better. Seeing people find their joy, their true happiness, and potential, is what makes her feel fulfilled. She has worked with over 1500 parents, taught over 2000 students, presented workshops for over 450 educators, coached over 98 teachers, and spent over 40,000 hours educating teachers, parents, and students.