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10 WAYS TO BETTER UNDERSTAND MIDDLE SCHOOLERS

1. Understand that they are forming their identity at this age. When a child reaches the age of 13, they start asking questions and wanting to find out who they truly are.  They will also start to think about what their purpose in life is.  It is your goal to support them in that, not to tell them your opinion.  Allow them to make mistakes as they figure out their purpose. And realize that your comments and critiques can encourage a healthy identity or discourage it.

2. Know that they have a persistent need for a controlled freedom.  At this age they don’t want complete control, but they want to control some decisions.  As their brain develops, they will question everything, including your decisions.  Allow them to respectfully question it and present them with controlled choices.

3. Follow your own rules.  Teenagers easily notice unfairness and hypocrisy, so if you break your own rules, they will lose respect for you and for the rule. They will also notice if others are favored and will disrespect you for it.

4. Know that punishment is not always the answer. Sometimes people want to get a teenager’s attention by taking something away or pushing harder or being firmer, thinking that this action will “toughen them up.”  Instead, it will cause them to be instantly defensive, lose trust in you, and develop a hatred toward you.  Instead, talk with them about the situation. Teens want to be heard!  Listen to them and hear how they are feeling.

5. Understand that they are emotional and insecure.  They have their hands full of dealing with pressures and struggles of growing up, discovering who they are, dealing with school life and friends, and navigating feelings in relationships.  When they have a sudden outburst, know that there is more behind that outburst and that it may just be an emotional release of the pressure that they are feeling inside.  Be careful how you treat them, how you speak to them, and how you show them respect.

6. Be careful how you respond to their failures.  Teens are their own worst critic.  If you come down on them harshly, you have just confirmed their insecure feelings that they are a failure.  Instead, try a positive sandwich.  Tell them what they did that was correct and then ask them to come up with two things that they need to work on to improve their performance.

7. Engage in their life. Get to know them, their interests, what motivates them, what encourages them.  Attend their plays, their musical performances, their spelling bees, etc. The more that you know them and show that you care about them as a whole person, the more that they will be able to connect with you and trust you.

8. Know that teens see life as black and white.  Either it is right or wrong. Fair or unfair. It’s either a bad game/meet or a good game/meet. There is no grey area. Help them to work through this, but understand that this is a teenage mind and will not change/develop until closer to 15/16 years of age.


9. Hold to your word.  If you want to develop trust with a teenager, be true to your word.  If you say that you are going to do something, do it. Sometimes plans change and you may have to go back on your word, but make sure that you have a good reason for it and that you explain it to them.  Otherwise, they will stop trusting you and in turn stop respecting you.

10. Understand that all teenagers mature at different rates. No teenager is the same. Not only do they mature at different rates, but their type of maturity is different too.  Just because one  teen handles things in stride does not mean that all teens should handle it the same way. Every teen is different and should be treated individually.


WRITTEN BY Amy Hanna