Who are you, and what have you done with my kid?!
Ever hear this (or maybe you’ve already said this), “Everything was great, UNTIL…”
“She hit 6th grade.”
“He entered junior high.”
“I went from being the best mother/father ever, to being the biggest embarrassment on the planet!”
For countless families coast to coast, it usually unfolds like this:
Babies are adorable.
Toddlers are feisty and fun.
Preschoolers are adventurous and excited about life.
Grade school kids are filled with love and adoration for their amazing, brilliant, incredible parents.
So, what happens when middle school hits?
How do parents going from being absolutely “in” to being so tragically and unequivocally “out?” And most importantly, what can you do about it?
If you feel like you’re in unchartered land with your pre-teen or teen, you only have to look at the quizzical (shocked and devastated!) faces of other parents around you to know you are not alone. You are in good company and you are absolutely not imagining it.
Things actually have changed, in a big way, and that means you need to make some changes too.
Your old toolbox, filled with strategies that worked with a two year old, or ten year old, won’t cut it anymore. Here are some new tools to throw in your toolbox to help you navigate the next portion of this endlessly exciting parenting journey!
1. SOS: Stay on shore.
Your pre-teen/teen is going to be going through a lot of changes, challenges and growth. They will sometimes be in turmoil/angst and encounter rough waters. That comes with THEIR age, not YOUR age. Your goal is stay on shore. You stay calm, focused and on solid ground … so you can help them out, if (or when) they ever need it. When someone else (especially your child) is struggling, your goal is never to join them. A lot of parents spend a lot of time splashing in the water with their kid. Not helpful — for either party.
2. A new tennis.
In tennis you hit the ball over the net, and you get points if your “opponent” can’t hit the ball back. Your goal is always to win. Let’s flip this game around now. Imagine the “ball” represents who is talking and in, A new tennis, your goal is to get the ball back over the net, and in to your “partner’s” side of the court, as quickly (and as close to your partner) as possible. Typically a teen starts saying less, and then parents start talking more (about what they should do, shouldn’t do, need to do, better NEVER do, etc.), which never goes well. They tune out, and parents feel frustrated. I’m willing to be that by this point your teen knows what you think about every major issue on the planet — so you probably don’t need to say it again. What you want to know is what they think — about friends, school, parties, the world, choices etc. The more they say, the more you can help them figure out. Keep the ball on their side of the court and keep them talking.
3. Know the goal to win the game.
Do you have any idea what you’re trying to do in this new relationship with your child? What is your goal? If you went out on a field and found a lot of equipment, nets, baskets, bats, balls, pucks and helmets, you wouldn’t start “playing” until you knew what the goal was, or what you were trying to accomplish, would you? Your relationship with your child is no different. Before you say a word, take a minute to get clear on what your “goal” is in the situation. Is your “goal” to prove a point, to share your two hour monologue about the 7th grade, to scare your child with everything bad that can happen in the world, OR is it to get them to talk? To open up to you? To realize that you’re ON his/her team, and will ALWAYS be on the same team? Growing up isn’t easy, so it’s pretty amazing when kids can grow up feeling like s/he has a parent or two on the team with them!
Congratulations for being open to trying some different tools with your newly arrived pre-teen/teen.
And — hang on.
You will get “cool” again, post high-school. Promise.
(But who’s to say that you can’t be a little bit “OK” in the meantime?)
Enjoy every step of this incredible journey. There is so much for you both to learn!
Carrie Stack, M.Ed., founder of Say Yes Institute (www.sayyesinstitute.com), is the author of “Conversations with the Future” and “The Dream Boss.” She has had the privilege of spending 20-plus years supporting all kinds of cool people (managers/supervisors, community leaders, teens, parents, families, etc.) to have positive and powerful relationships, at home and at work.