As a parent of a toddler and a baby, it’s hard to imagine a time when they will ever be independent. For the parents of my eighth graders, it may be hard to remember a time when dressing, feeding, bathing, and rocking their kids took up most of their free time. While the days of brushing your kids’ teeth may be far behind parents of teens, let me stress, your kids still need you!
Luckily, your teen can now bathe him or herself, but that doesn’t mean he or she has hygiene down. I can attest to this as I have eighth graders after lunch; the boys come in red faced and dripping with sweat. Some of them are so pungent, I have to hold my breath when working with them.
Remind your teen to shower daily as well as to apply deodorant. If my boys were middle schoolers, I’d definitely buy them something like NASTY Cleansing Face & Body Wipes, Post Workout & After Sports, Extra Large (10″ x 12″) Individually Wrapped, 10-Count. They look pretty manly, and I could imagine slipping a few packets in their backpacks.
My other eighth grade boy pet peeve is their LONG NAILS!!! Even though my boys are still shrimps, it drives me crazy when their nails get long or dirty. Buying your boys a nice nail trimmer and checking their nail status every once in awhile will help them to avoid being my pet peeve.
My then superintendent called school the day after the 2011 Southwest Blackout. To make up for lost instructional time, she assigned every student to write a page about their blackout experience. The woman was serious about education. When the power resumed and we made it back to school, I read through my students’ contributions.
I was struck by how much the experience had mattered to middle school students. They said things like “my family talked for the first time in a long time.” They named experiences such as playing board games, swimming in their pools, barbecuing, sitting around a fire, etc. I thought a night without technology would have destroyed my students, but instead, it seemed to be what they craved because it offered uninterrupted time with their families.
Someone to Listen
I know that oftentimes I’m the first to share my students’ triumphs and failures with their parents. Most teens do not contribute a lot of information voluntarily. However, I think they still want to share but are uncomfortable with a one-on-one conversation.
I suggest finding something you can do together that takes the focus off of talking. It could be something as active as walking, hiking, kayaking, etc. or it could be something like baking, working on a puzzle, or making a craft. The key is that when we’re distracted and busy with our hands, conversation just seems to flow. A bonus would be if you were able to create something together that served others. For example, putting together bags to hand out to the homeless in your community could be a cool way to do good with your teen while talking through some of the issues on his or her mind.
It’s easy to take a back seat in your kids’ academic lives once they hit middle school, and it’s largely a good time to do it. They need to own communicating with their teachers, organizing their time, and completing their work. However, I would definitely recommend having a weekly check-in to go through their scores, grades, and comments. Almost without exception, schools are offering live grade reports that allow for a transparency that just didn’t exist when you and I were in school. I remember periodically begging my high school English teacher to tell me my grade; she would then manually calculate a number based on all my scores. Seriously!
Go through the reports for each class with your teen. Try to keep your language neutral and stick to exploratory questions: what do you think earned you that particular score? how might you do a similar assignment differently in the future? what was your strategy for studying for that quiz?
If they see this time as a means for you to support them, they won’t dread the weekly check-ins and they can serve to diffuse academic situations that could blow up later. However, if the sessions are just a means for you to vent your frustration with their choices, they’ll be sure to shut down and will be deaf to your coaching.
So, there you have it. What do you do to connect with your teen? In what ways does he or she still need you?