On the Journey
news reel: stories of People, places, and learning AT Aspen Country Day School
Remarks from Middle School Parent Night 2019, Brenda Stockdale, Head of Middle School
As I look across the room at all of you, I'm taken back to a time when I was a parent of a Sixth Grader.
At back to school night, the teachers explained this was the year students would be expected to become independent, because, as one of the teachers inelegantly put it, "We want to have a relationship with your child, not with you." While I don't think he meant to deliver a message that landed quite so harshly, I know now that what he was really saying is that Sixth Grade is the year students started separating from their parents, learning to advocate for themselves and do things on their own, whether we were ready for that or not.
In our rational minds, we know we are raising our children to become independent adults. I have to say, however, this knowledge doesn't make it any easier when our middle schooler stops kissing us goodbye when we drop her off in the morning, or skips family movie night to hang out with his friends.
Yet, it's what we ultimately want for our children - to become self-sustaining, actualized adults...who eventually move out of the house. You'll see the fruits of your labors when they come back to visit and clean up after themselves without being asked!
It's during these pre-teen and early teen years that you'll notice your son or daughter pulling away, choosing to spend more time with their friends and mumbling one word responses when you ask them about their day. The good thing is, that as they depend on you less, they begin to take on responsibility and feel empowered when they figure things out on their own.
You may have noticed your kids have suddenly become more self-absorbed ...spending more time in front of the mirror; agonizing over what to wear; disappearing into social media, You Tube, and Netflix; and worrying about being shorter than everyone else, or wondering why math is hard and all their peers seem to "get it." Totally normal!
Think back to your own adolescence... Do you remember fighting with your parents? Worrying about your appearance? Trying to get in with the cool group? Yep. Not an easy time - but an important one!
The brain continues to develop and change throughout our lives. During adolescence and into a person's 20s, the prefrontal cortex matures, creating a web of complex capabilities, including abstract thinking, decision making, impulse control, and realizing that actions have consequences. The problem is, however, that even though these skills are developing in our children, their ability to apply them in the moment is significantly different from ours as adults. This is why your middle schooler says, "I got an A on the history test, so I can skip tonight's homework and watch "Stranger Things!"
As we embark on a new year of raising middle schoolers, we want you to encourage your children to do things for themselves, like:
Email a teacher with a question or problem
Check mycountryday to see what assignments they have and which ones they're missing
Seek out adults at school for academic and social emotional support
Work out their friendship ups and downs - as most of us know, someone with whom they have a conflict today could be their best friend tomorrow!
Support their mistakes; now is the opportune time for them to learn important life lessons
And listen to whatever they have to say without jumping in to fix the problem
Think about the last time you got a frantic call from your child, asking you to bring their forgotten homework or chrome book to school. Did you drop everything to respond to their needs? Now is the time to let go and allow them to face the consequences.
Jessica Lahey, author of The Gift of Failure, offers some advice in a New York Times article, "How to Help Your Child Succeed at School." She says, "Don't live in the daily emergency of this homework or this test. Instead, think about where you'd like your child to be in a year or five years in terms of competence and growth. Which is more important to you, that you deliver your child's forgotten math homework today or that she develops a strategy for not forgetting her math homework tomorrow?"
She tells parents to:
Focus on the process, not the product.
Encourage kids to self-advocate.
Keep a long-term perspective.
Love the child you have, not the child you wish you had.
Rest assured, your children still need plenty of guidance during these middle school years. You can help by:
Monitoring and putting boundaries around technology use
Establishing a consistent bedtime
Encouraging healthy eating habits
Supporting them through the ups and downs of middle school, realizing today's drama is tomorrow's forgotten incident
Psychologist Wendy Mogel, author of Voice Lessons, talks about the natural development of children as separate human beings from their parents. She says it's important that parents try to strike a balance - giving their kids time and space to become their own individual selves while still being connected.
In her book, The Blessing of a B Minus, Dr. Mogel says, "Accepting your teen's individuality and natural evolution is one of the most difficult challenges you'll face as a parent."
Someone told me once that our job as parents is to put ourselves out of a job. Our goal is to raise our children to become independent adults, but believe me, our responsibilities as parents continue throughout our lives. Just ask my 80-year-old mother who took me to the ER to get my shoulder x-rayed the other night!
My kids are in their 20s, and I love checking in with them. My cortisol levels go way up when I hear my daughter's exciting news, just as they go down and my sympathetic nervous system kicks in when I hear my son's disappointment when something doesn't go his way.
I love our family Snapchat and the Instagram stories our kids post - as a way of staying in touch and keeping tabs on what they're doing. It's not like I'm spying, because obviously they "friended" me; it's a form of staying connected as they continue on their individual paths to adulthood.
It's important to be involved in our children's lives and to know when to step out of the way to let them become the adults they are meant to be. I think this was the message that Sixth Grade teacher tried to impart so many years ago.
We are on this journey together, and we WANT to have a relationship with you! I speak for the entire middle school faculty when I say we're very excited for the year ahead and sharing in the growth of each of our middle school students.