5 Do’s and Don’ts for Raising Middle Schoolers: What To Do When You Can’t Drop-Kick Them Over the Fence

Oh, man.

His body is too big for his brain right now, you guys. It’s one-half Bambi On Ice around here and one-half T-Rex Takes Manhattan. The holes in the wall are, I feel, simply an outward symbol of an inward reality.

It’s okay, though, this Parenting a Middle Schooler thing. It is. It’s normal, right? Normal and exhausting and exhilarating and consuming and every day. Relentless, like all of parenting. Harder in some ways than parenting littles because I can’t tuck this kid under my arm and bodily move him to a timeout chair. Easier in some ways than parenting littles because he can clean my whole laundry room which is AWESOME on toast with a side of butter. So it’s okay, see? Some days, I even believe we’ll all survive this.

Last night, I was thinking about how very grateful I am for the people who take my kid away for a while… and who insist that he’s delightful and kind and considerate and making progress… and who remind me by their example to dwell on the best and not on drywall repair. So I wrote to them on Facebook.

Dear People Who Work with Middle Schoolers on Purpose, you crazy teachers and youth pastors and tutors and coaches,

Thank you for the work you do with our children.

Thank you for thinking they’re interesting and capable and funny.

Thank you for never, ever drop-kicking them over the back fence, even when they really, really, really, really, really deserve it.

Also, if you have any special secrets — say, tricks of the trade — for accomplishing that last thing, do share. I’m asking for a friend.

Your #1 Fan

Crowd-sourcing wisdom is one of my very favourite things. I may have one good parenting idea from time to time, but together we kick child-rearing butt. 

So I took your Facebook offerings last night, Middle School Workers and Warriors — your top secrets and tricks of the trade — and I distilled them here so I can find them when I need them which may be every minute of every day for the next three years. I’m gonna wear this page out is what I’m saying.

And here it is, thanks to YOU…

5 Do’s and Don’ts for Raising Middle Schoolers:
What To Do When You Can’t Drop-Kick Them Over the Fence

The Don’ts:

  1. Don’t fight every battle or get into a public pissing match. It’s OK to let some stuff go. Besides, being calm is far more irritating.
  2. Don’t talk too much. Remember to W.A.I.T. (Ask yourself, Why Am I Talking?)
  3. Don’t breathe through your nose. Particularly if they just finished P.E. This is the one time in your life that it’s WAY better to be a mouth-breather. Live it up.
  4. Don’t actually drop-kick your middle schooler over the back fence. Or shake some sense into him. Or yell, “STOP IT. Just StopItStopItStopItStopIt STOP IT!” But it’s OK to scream into your pillow if you must. Or to mutter a few choice words in the shower. My friend highly recommends it.
  5. Don’t forget what it was like to be a middle schooler. The Land of Conscious Incompetence is a rough spot to have to live, and a little sympathy, even in the face of loads of broken crap, is a good thing.

The Do’s:

  1. Do laugh. Loud and long and with a maniacal edge if necessary. Embrace the goofy. And the ridiculous. And the crazy. And the wonky weird. This is like CPR for the soul; laughter will bring you back to life.
  2. Do have a short memory. Everyone should be allowed to change.
  3. Do perfect the Hairy Eyeball. This is a parenting Life Skill.
  4. Do create opportunities to let them run off the angst. In the dark. With glo-sticks. Or through sports. Or at youth group. Anything, really, that’s outside the house.
  5. Do forgive your kid — and yourself — for being human, and choose to see the best. We’re fallible, beautiful creatures, every last one of us.  If your kid knows you’ve got his back through the thick and the thin and the thin and the thin, then you’re lightyears ahead of schedule in this grand Trust Building project that may one day make you his friend.


If you have more Do’s and Don’ts to add, please DO use the comments section below. And thanks for your wisdom.



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14 responses to “5 Do’s and Don’ts for Raising Middle Schoolers: What To Do When You Can’t Drop-Kick Them Over the Fence”

  1. Set clear, reasonable boundaries and stick to them! I learned the hard way that my middle school (6th Grade) students loved and respected me more when I was firm but fair and didn’t worry so much about if they liked the rules or not. Too many parents are afraid of being firm with their kids, but kids need that structure. Also, don’t make empty threats – if the consequence is loss of a privilege for a certain behavior, then follow through with the consequence no matter how much they may try to bargain you down. Otherwise, they start to learn that they can get away with anything.

    Oh, and you totally have to be a special kind of crazy to work with middle school students ;-).

  2. So, my wife sent this link to me because I am a middle school teacher…on purpose. I love those crazy, whacky kids, and I love to send them home at night. I think that parents of middle school students are the real heros. Here are a couple things that I think work well in my class. Number one is the most important tip, and nothing you can do is more powerful than this.

    1. Apologize. Apologize often. Admit that you are human and make mistakes. Admit that you have made mistakes in raising and disciplining them and then enlist their support and help. Nothing is more frustrating to a middle school student than someone who is “infalible.” Be the example and ask for forgiveness yourself…First. I have seen this work miracles with students and entire classes.

    2. I fully admit that I stole this from James Dobson. “Say yes when you can, so you can say no when you have to.” Sometimes it is inconvenient, sometimes it requires extra work, but if you can say yes to reasonable requests, then saying no to smoking, drugs or worse becomes valid. In my class, saying yes to chosing your partner, reading choices, sometimes seating assignments allows me to say no when requests do not support learning.

    3. They only seem fragile. Regardless of what they say and/or how they act, teenagers know if you truly love them. They may have some doubts and asking the question, “Do you love me?” seems strange. So, teenagers test to see if your love is unconditional. They truly want to know where the line is and then push a little beyond it, wondering if you will still love and accept them if they dress funny, get some new jewelry, get a bad grade. Keep loving them, they only seem fragile, and they will bounce back from a huge number of mistakes, bruises, and broken hearts.

    Good luck all you parents in the trenches.

  3. I SO like the W.A.I.T. (Why Am I Talking) something I need to incorporate like “yesterday”!!!
    “Use your best judgement and remember who you are” …is going to become my punch line to my daughter.
    I’m a freshmen to the middler schooler parenting and, I loved every single advice that is shared here. Like someone who already mentioned above, I’m going to have this pinned on my bulletin board as well.
    Thank you to all those who shared.

  4. I am a middle school teacher and being with other people’s middle schoolers is far easier than raising your own! It seems kids are nicer (in general) to their teachers than their parents!

    I am raising my first of 4 middle school girls and it is ROUGH! (My other 3 girls are 10, 4, and 1 – so more to come soon). I have been a middle school teacher for 16 years and almost daily I wonder if I will I survive my own middle schooler?

    Thanks for the tips! So appreciated!

  5. BOOKMARK! And I’m totally using that phrase: “Use good judgment and remember who you are.” TOTALLY. Starting tomorrow.

    And the friends with the teachers and the other parents and the allowing for growth and be ready to defend or discourse on your beliefs yet allow for disagreement and the short memory and the laughter and the hairy eyeball (LOL!!) and and and….

    THANK YOU ALL for this.

    I’d also say: make your house the hangout house. Welcome all the friends. Feed them. Have fun video games. Own lots of movies. Host youth nights and movie nights and all manner of after school gatherings. Listen with both ears but appear deaf.

    Oh nelly, this is so close in my future it’s almost tomorrow. Deep breath…

  6. My boys are still young but my mom used a phrase on my brother every time he left the house and it completely freaked him out. I say it to my husband jokingly but he says it hits deep:

    “Use good judgment and remember who you are.”

    She got it from some speaker, just wish I knew who. I want to say it was a copy talking at adult forum at church. It’s a gem though.

  7. Having raised three men, and working with the middle school youth at our church for almost 2 decades (YIKES) now, I have a couple of pointers, things to keep in mind when dealing with Middle Schoolers.
    1. Middle Schoolers, like Toddlers & College Freshmen are all going through the same basic developmental process, in bigger bodies with higher stakes. They are all trying to exert more control and independence over their lives. They all want more freedom than they can really handle quite yet. They all want a safety net of loving parents/adults/friends/mentors to pick them up when they fall down and get hurt, but none of them will admit it and they spend a great deal of energy pushing those people away.
    The falls for Toddlers can usually be fixed with kisses and hugs. Those of Middle Schoolers and College Freshman require more because they usually involve higher stakes and hurt others, not just themselves. We kiss and hug the toddler, the trick is to kiss and hug the Middle Schooler too, while helping them walk through the scenario of ‘Where did it go wrong? What could you have done differently? Who did you offend? & What are you going to do now?’, and to do so in such a way that they feel safe failing, and also see/receive/minimize the consequences. This takes time and determination and maybe even a time-out for Mom and Dad to pray and strategize. Time-out is okay because Middle Schoolers understand delayed consequences and it gives them time to cool off too.
    2. Remember your Middle Schooler is “trying on” new personalities, sometimes several a month, to see how they fit. Let them know what you think in loving, graceful, and humorous ways.
    3. Remember your Middle Schooler is exchanging the faith and beliefs of their parents for a faith and belief system of their own. Engage in conversation with them when they express doubts and questions. Be ready to give an answer for what and why you believe as you do. Seek to teach Truth clearly, but do not require them to agree with all of your opinions. Seek to teach that respectful discourse is healthy, adult, conversation and that yelling, name-calling, shaming and blaming are relationship killers.
    4. Lastly, I pass on the wisdom of my own mother who raised seven children. ‘Use bazookas for elephants and fly swatters for flies, and remember you only have so many silver arrows.’

  8. I would add not only to make friends with their teachers but with all their friend’s parents and even their non-friend’s parents and anybody else that may have contact with your kids. I have always told them that they can’t “hide” at the mall or any other public place around town because I KNOW EVERYONE and everyone knows me and knows they are my kid so I will find out both the good and the bad about what they do outside these four walls. This has been proven time and time again to my teens and they are constantly amazed at my far reaching influence! Ha!
    Also, another good bit of advice our middle school principal told all of the parents at orientation is this … “In the middle school years you need to remember that there is a ton of growth going on with your child below the neck. Above the neck… not so much. Also, become intimately familiar with the phrases, “What?”, “I don’t know” and “I don’t remember”. If you can just remember those things, you will do fine.”
    Saved my sanity and my kid’s butt a time or two, I’ll tell ya!

  9. “2.Do have a short memory. Everyone should be allowed to change.”

    Man that’s great life advice, too… brilliant.

    Thank you village – this is amazing advice! 🙂

  10. As the mother of 2 middle school boys, I found this to be incredibly helpful. I will print this one and hang it on my bulletin board for easy access 😉

  11. Make friends with their teachers. They’ll hate it (probably) but it’ll be invaluable for finding out why they actually didn’t do some assignment…

    • TRUE, Jodi! We live in a small community, so I have lots of friends (read: spies) that work in the schools. I will say, it did take me several years to collect them all, so mamas new to the School Game shouldn’t be disheartened… spies are developed over time, just like other types of friends. 😀 Many times, my kids come home and I already have the inside scoop. NOT just on the naughty stuff, either! Sometimes, I’m able to say, “Hey – I hear you did a GREAT JOB at school today.” Really helps perpetuate the myth that Mommy Knows All.

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