Managing 'middle school madness' with your child

HOUSTON Middle schoolers seem to always be insecure.

Cheryl Simmons, LMSW Family Therapist, explained,"Some are bordering on being young children, elementary, and some want to be in that fast lane."

Simmons says parents should understand their push for independence, but it doesn't include surliness, arguing or backtalk.

Simmons advises kids, "You can feel any way you want to feel but you can't act any way you want to act."

Tweens can learn to accept disappointment without being disrespectful.

"Show respect for the family, around the ones you love, or don't make plans for the weekend. You'll be grounded this weekend," Simmons said.

When tweens push away from parents for peers, Simmons suggests parents help them find healthy peers. Don't hover. Let them own their problems. Offer solutions but don't solve their problem. Accept being disliked. You're a parent first.

Simmons said, "If we need them to be happy, it sort of sets us up to be emotionally manipulated by the child."

Say no and stand firm.

"The answer is no and I hope you understand someday it's because I love you. And then walk off," Simmons advised.

Limit texting and online access.

Simmon suggested, "At 7:30 put the cell phone in the charging station and if you follow through and you're responsible for that you're showing me you're ready for a cell phone. And that would be wonderful; you're on the child's side."

It's crucial parents set boundaries now before children get to high school.

Simmons said, "They're much more likely to think twice before they engage in dangerous behaviors."

Simmons says parents shouldn't worry they're violating their child's privacy over emails and texting. She says middle schoolers are so needy and trusting, that's a combination that makes them especially vulnerable to predators.

Cheryl G. Simmons, LCSW, is a licensed marriage and family therapist with more than 25 years experience of counseling and training for schools, churches and corporations. Her office is located near the Galleria at 7660 Woodway, Houston, TX 77063. You can contact her at 713-782-4657.

The emerging quest for independence, the cultural decay of morals in America, and the many physical, emotional and social changes during the middle school years make the task of parenting more challenging than ever! By Managing the Middle School Madness parents can guide their children into a new year of self-reliance, confidence, and success.

1. Understand how your child is changing - No longer is he or she your pleasant elementary child who has a desire to please you. With the onset of puberty (often about 1 year earlier than their parents), middle school children begin pushing away from parents to "find themselves" a separate identity. There is a tremendous need to belong to a peer group yet they often struggle with finding healthy peers due to a lack of social skills and confidence.

2. Recognize your child still needs to feel your love - Even though they rarely ask for your time and attention, middle schoolers still need encouragement, affirmation and guidance. If a child feels you genuinely care about them they are more likely to follow your guidance.

3. Teach your child problem solving skills - Do not hover or lecture. Kids learn from setbacks. Allow them to "own" their problems, help them develop solutions to their problems and take time to follow up and evaluate the outcome. Empowering your child to handle their own predicaments effectively will help them develop confidence and ambition.

4. Discipline with natural and logical consequences - Talk less and act more. Be clear with your rules and expectations. Be specific what consequence they will be choosing if they break a rule or do not follow through. This makes the child responsible for the outcome…not the parent! Have the courage to let your child be mad at you. Let them know you recognize they are upset about a choice they made but perhaps they will choose differently next time. There is always hope. We all learn best from our own mistakes!

5. Relinquish the need for your child to be "happy" with you. - Kids certainly do not always know what is best for them, especially kids who are uncomfortable with themselves, lousy at communication and bombarded with media messages that leave them wanting more! Know the gratification for parenting will know come for many years, more than likely when they are around mid-twenties experiencing life on their own.

6. Have the courage to protect your kids from social networking and online use of a computer. Parents need to have total access to passwords and explain to their kids there is no computer or cell phone privacy during the middle school years. Computers need to be kept in common areas of the home (never in the child's room) and cell phones need to be parked for charging at a specified time each evening. Without complying with these rules your child is letting you know they are not ready for these responsibilities. Middle school children are very vulnerable to being hurt and lack the maturity to handle Facebook and MySpace. Tell them that will be reserved for high school. They are still very trusting and open to online bullying and possible child predators.

7. Prepare your child for the tough issues: sex, drugs and alcohol. - Let them know they will face these issues before they enter high school. Tell them because you love them more than life itself you want to be safe and not partake in any of these self-destructive behaviors. Teens drink for only one reason: to get drunk, often resulting in hurtful and possibly tragic results. Drugs lead to a path of failure and sex make you intensely attached before a relationship can be mature and lasting. Practice refusal skills by coaching your child to say something like, "Are you kidding me, my folks would ground me for life if I did that!.

8. Build a strong network of support from other parents. Stay knowledgeable about what you child and his or her friends are up to. Call other parents to check out what the plans are. Middle school children need to know you are interested and aware of all of their plans. Even though they often complain about not having any privacy, this gives your child security!

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