Middle school is awkward. There’s not another way to put it. Tweens are experiencing changes with their bodies, and their emotions and feelings are basically a rollercoaster. Middle schoolers are going through a whirlwind of embarrassment, fear of missing out, trying to establish what cool actually means, and so much more. In addition, there is pressure to perform well in academics, athletics, at home with chores, extracurricular activities, and establish relationships with teachers and coaches.

As parents and mentors, we must identify the concerning issues tweens are facing. Developing a better understanding of what they are enduring on daily basis will allow us to better serve them and teach them how to handle the challenges of everyday life.

Puberty

Everyone develops at their own rate. Some tweens develop quicker than others and this immeasurable development causes insecurity and instability. Society’s view of tweens also adds to the awkwardness that puberty brings. Elementary children are often viewed as cute and adorable. But in middle school, kids lose their cuteness because their bodies are changing. Adults slowly lose their patience, when their tween loses their temper. Instead of their outburst being a tantrum, it’s viewed as an act of disrespect.

Middle schoolers are challenged with learning about their body and how they will continue to change throughout the upcoming years. Parents and guardians need to be honest with their tweens. Instead of assuming that tweens will learn these anatomical changes in school (or from friends), adults must educate their middle schoolers and explain what is going on. The reality is if a tween is old enough to go through this awkward phase, then they are old enough to understand what is happening to them physically.

Set aside one-on-one time, with your child, and open the floor up to questions. You know your child better than anyone so, you can explain things in a way they’ll better understand. Share your concerns with your tween and if you don’t have an answer, be willing to research it together.

FOMO

If you don’t know by now, FOMO stands for “fear of missing out”. This fear has intensified because of advancements in technology. It’s no longer just about having the cool apparel. Now kids are troubled with having a smart phone, smart watch, air pods, a social media account (Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Tick Tock, Instagram, etc.), or access to various clouds.

A lot of parents give in because they are fearful that their tween will miss out or be technologically crippled because of the increasingly fast production of new technology released. However, that is not the answer. These technologies are new and like all new things, everyone wants them. It’s important to set precedents early. Take time to speak with your child about their technology wish list and be completely honest. If you do not want your child to have a smart phone until they enter high school, then tell them and back it with legitimate reasoning. If your tween wants access to a social media channel, educate them on the risks and responsibilities that come with having an account. Netflix has a handful of fantastic documentaries that shed light on the realities behind social media and how toxic they really can be.

While your tween will probably not be happy with your decision to not subscribe to their FOMO, it’s important to provide reasoning and validity. Maintaining open lines of communication with your middle schooler is imperative.

Bullying and Meanness

There is a distinct difference between meanness and bullying. Unfortunately, middle school is a ring for meanness. Emotions are running wild and tweens are trying to figure out how to navigate their feelings. Meanness is isolating someone by words or actions. Bullying is meanness but at a more frequent rate. Either way, every tween endures or encounters both.

If your middle schooler is being bullied, it’s important to address the actions with a teacher and/or staff member at the school. Bullying can trigger anxiety and depression within children. If your child is experiencing difficulties with another student, be proactive and ask questions about their interactions. Reassure your tween that they can come to you, no matter what.

Encourage your middle schooler to be kind and practice positive behavior – despite the actions of others. It’s going to be hard but it’s important to teach your tween how to live out a happy life. If you’re able to build your child’s confidence and self-esteem up, when they encounter a bullying or meanness situation, they are more likely to be resilient and not believe the unkind things being said. Help your child feel protected and establish a safe haven for your tween.

Independence Versus Dependence

All tweens want desperately to be independent from their parents. Even though they don’t have the answers, they believe that they’ll be just fine without parental guidance. But they still actually want security and support. Middle schoolers are expected to learn organization and balance. When they leave elementary school tweens start switching classes, have the responsibility of a locker, manage bell changes, participate in organized sports and/or activities. Tweens are receiving added responsibilities but they are not necessarily being taught how to deal with it all.

Parents and guardians should teach their children how to properly organize class requirements and assignments. Instead of giving them all the responsibilities of handling everything at one, start out small and increase their independence. For example, allow your student to do their homework at their discretion for a week. At the end of the week, address what they’ve completed. Did they get it all done? If so, the next week, extend their bedtime by 20-30 minutes. Can they handle their day with less sleep? If so, continue the later bedtime. Then move forward with giving them more independence. It’s all a process of trial and error, but your tween will appreciate (even though they may not verbally say it) your willingness to embrace more independence.

You can read every parenting book that’s ever been written, but you’ll never really know how to handle everything. One tween may have a totally different experience with middle school in comparison to their sibling. As adults, it’s important stay up-to-date on the challenges your tween is facing. Right now, these are the top four middle school problems; however, in five years when technology has shifted and settled there will probably be different obstacles.

Stay involved and always be willing to listen to your middle schooler.

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