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Parenting the Middle School Child

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January 11, 2011

Parenting the Middle School Child: Tips for a Successful Balancing Act

Brandon – (January 10, 2011) -- One way to describe a family’s experience of having a child go through middle school is using the words wonderfully challenging.  Hormonal changes and increasing social interactions in the child produce a mixture of wonderful experiences and challenging dilemmas.  Brandon Regional Hospital and Maulik Trivedi, MD, psychiatrist of MindBody Integrated, invite parents to learn more about these challenges and experiences and how to ‘get through them’ on January 20th at 7 p.m., at Randall Middle School (Media Center). 

“It is wonderful and fascinating to see your child grow bigger and have more personality of their own,” expresses Dr. Trivedi.  “It is even more exciting for the child to find themselves in a growing body and with newer levels of mental awareness about life.  Nevertheless, this age proves equally challenging for the whole family due to the adjustments required to meet the demands of these changes.”

Physical growth combined with greater logical and social abilities in the developing mind leads to a greater sense of confidence in the child, resulting in wanting more freedom.  The middle school child will also seek more access to the means that stretch their freedom outside their home.  The expanding sense of freedom combined with increasing awareness leads them naturally to compare themselves and their families with their peers, becoming increasingly more aware of the haves and have nots.

“All children in middle school do this as part of their natural growing process,” states Dr. Trivedi.  “Sometimes they do it internally and silently, and at other times, with loud and clear shouting at their family members.  Parents can expect to hear things like, ‘Well, she has had a cell phone since last year, how come I don’t have one?’ or ‘Why can’t I be on Facebook?’  Inside their heads, kids in this age group are comparing themselves silently with their peers.”

Many middle school kids are thinking things that parents may not usually hear about.  Most kids begin to wonder about their appearance and their relationships.  “Am I different?”  or “Do my friends really like me?”  By thinking these thoughts, they are developing an early sense of their place in the world.  Although most of these questions get addressed indirectly in social interactions, some critical questions may go unaddressed or inappropriately addressed.  Poor management or neglect of these inner and outer issues is often the stepping stones to more serious problems in adolescence and young adulthood.  It can be the foundation for future emotional and social problems.

Dr. Trivedi recommends the following to guide the middle school child through challenging times and pave their way towards a balanced and healthy life: 

  • Parents must maintain an open but observing mind frame.  This is a balancing act between managing your own fears and allowing enough independence for the child to work towards their greater independence.  A simple mantra to follow is be involved from a distance. This mind frame allows the parents to feel like they are guiding without the child feeling like they are interfering.  Children want to practice independence but they also require and want a sense of security of having an adult involved in the background.  
  • Parents need to avoid the trap of worrying and forecasting.  Although worrying to a degree is normal in caring for a child, excessive worrying that prevents the child from experiencing age-appropriate and developmentally necessary experiences is to be avoided.   A good way to tell if you are worrying too much is to look for forecasting thoughts.  These are thoughts that predict a negative future.  They are commonly the result of excessive worrying.
  • Work with your child with the understanding that privileges and responsibilities are two sides of the same coin.  Most children require this knowledge in middle school as a balanced way of experiencing and owning their increasing sense of freedom.  Let them know early on that being irresponsible about privileges only leads to them being taken away.  Typically, when adolescents have a problem in life, it boils down to not having learned this value in their middle school years.  The sooner you instill this value in your child, the better both of you will be in the long run.
  • Be sure to laugh and love much more than scold and penalize.  Parents sometimes tend to overlook the fact that middle school children are still developing and prone to mistakes.  Parental frustrations from other parts of their life can spill out onto children.   Those children who are mischievous or defiant are particularly prone to being the victims.  Remember, scolding increases misbehaviors while a laughing and loving family atmosphere corrects them.  Mistakes are opportunities for improvement and patient practice makes everything possible.

Fill your time with your middle school child with these guiding principles. Tackle every wonderfully challenging day with love and patience.  It is a sure way to lead your family to a happier life now and later.  

Anyone is invited to attend the free Brandon Regional Hospital program presented by Dr. Trivedi on January 20th. Call (813)653-1065 or visit brandonregionalhospital.com to register.

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