So my memories of middle school were never as cool as The Wonder Years, Malcolm in the Middle or The Goldbergs, yet as a boy I must have had it pretty easy since I do not remember my BFF not talking to me, lunch table drama or social media mishaps like forgetting to @mention someone on Snapchat. Of course we only had the telephone and back in my day party lines were just becoming popular.
Raising a teenage girl today provides all types of challenges and with only a week to go in 7th grade I am happy to report we have been relatively successful at navigating the social scene this year. Although looking back, we did have some close misses – there were some great lessons along the way.
Here are 5 principles we embraced this year that I think are worth sharing to aid you and your daughter(s) during the middle school years.
Make sure she knows her feelings are important
Feelings are not good or bad, right or wrong, they just are. Do your best to acknowledge them and discuss the root cause of what the anger, frustration, jealousy or whatever is bouncing through her heart. Make time to be available for her to talk about what’s going on even when she “Does not want to talk!”. When she does start talking, start by listening and acknowledging what’s going on, and allowing some silence instead of rushing in to solve the challenge or point out a teaching moment. This is an important time when hormones are on overdrive and just listening can teach parents a lot about building trust for more important conversations later. Make her feel important, no matter what she is feeling at that time.
Teach her about rumors, gossip and how to avoid teasing and bullying
It is tough sometimes to teach about rumors and gossip without taking sides or telling her what to do or say. Two key questions I often ask is “How would you feel if someone was saying that about you behind your back?” or “How does that make you feel knowing that (insert girls name) is also saying those types of things about you when you are not around?” These role reversal questions typically elicit a response that gets her thinking about how to respect others more by not talking behind their back, even if she does not agree with their behavior. The same holds true for teasing, which can easily lead to bullying, especially in cyberspace. The littlest jab or joke online is easily blown out of proportion or context because of the cynical nature of much online conversation. I often remind her that when in doubt, leave it out, especially since online content lives forever.
Become friends with her friends parents
Having a few moms to text when things are scary has more than saved some tears over the years. Often a behind the scenes text exchange by parents followed by some pointed questions to the girls can get things back on track before much, if any, damage is done. These corrective questions, as I like to call them, could be as simple as “So what’s new with Maria since her sister went off to college last month? I know this must be a hard time for her.”, leads to some sympathy or a conversation that considers an annoyance or attitude flair up from a whole new perspective. Having access to an ally on the other side helps to establish those alliances early.
Diversify her relationships
Even if you think she has a great group of friends at school take some pressure off by helping her establish strong relationships elsewhere. Church, Scouts, music groups, club sports, cousins or other family and your friends children all provide outlets where school social cliques do not exist. These outside interests will provide balance and allow for diversity in her social interactions. With a wider net of friends, it becomes easier for her not to get caught up in the games kids play all in the name of popularity.
Teach her to “Kill ‘em With Kindness”
One of the greatest lessons I’ve been preaching to my daughter for years is to just “kill ‘em with kindness” meaning no matter what anyone else says or does she has the choice to be nice, no matter what is happening around her. Often when there is nothing more to say about a situation she describes from school I just give a look and she knows as we both say simultaneously when all else fails kill ‘em with kindness. It’s actually pretty funny because almost every situation when she applies this advice, the culprit or mean girl comes back to befriend her within days. Maybe next year we’ll even start tracking an over under on how many days it takes for them to come back? 🙂
Hopefully some of those tips will resonate with you as they have all helped us deal with some of the complexities associated with raising a teenage girl in junior high school.
One final piece of advice I’d like to share is to always see her bigger than she sees herself because believing in her goes a long way towards her believing in herself.