Parenting a Middle Schooler with Love

This morning, I sent my daughter off to middle school with a prayer and a kiss on her head. In the past 45 minutes, we laughed, hugged, fussed, apologized, and fussed again. This is a microcosm of our days. She is snuggly and gentle one minute, barking out demands the next. I am patient and engaged, and then quickly become annoyed and frustrated.

Middle school parenting is not for the faint at heart. This is such a pivotal period of human development. Opinions about themselves, the world, and their God are being shaped. The stakes are higher than they have ever been. If we aren’t careful, the rough seas of adolescence will toss us overboard.

I must start off by confessing, I am the clueless parent of a middle schooler. The mood swings and tumultuous temperament baffle me daily. I soak up every resource I can find on parenting tweenagers. I need some kind of guide to help me on this raging sea. Ultimately, 1 Corinthians 13 proves to be a great place to drop my anchor.

Speak All Things In Love

Parents have so many things to say to their adolescent children. Decisions require our guidance; their errors in judgment need correction. They need reminders to shower and wear deodorant. And to not eat the entire can of Pringles in one sitting.

My typical reaction is to rush in and take charge. I want control, and I want it now. However, the more loving thing to do is approach slowly, and speak even slower. I am quick to criticize before I get all of the facts. I am swift to scold before I allow an opportunity for self-correction.

1 Corinthians 13:1 says without love, my speech is, “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” As we inch closer to the teenage years, I certainly don’t want my words to become hollow. I want to be near my daughter’s ear as she transitions into adulthood. The only way to accomplish this is to speak all things—even correction—in love.

Rejoice in Truth, Downplay Wrongdoing

On any given day, my daughter will forget to feed the dog, pick on her sister, leave her wet towel on the bathroom floor, and ignore me when I ask her to take out the trash. On this same day, she will show kindness to a friend at school, ask to invite a hungry kid to dinner, play with her baby brother until he is dizzy with laughter, and share a piece of her heart with me in the quiet of her room.

I have a choice. I can attack her character and worth by focusing on the list of wrongs. Or, I can rejoice in the truth I see in her. At 11-years-old, my baby girl is hungry for acceptance. She wants to know she is loved, no matter what. By choosing to downplay the wrong and value her good, I give her a place to be loved instead of criticized.

“[Love] does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor 13:6). Correction and discipline have their place, but not to the exclusion of rejoicing in all that is right.

Hoping for the Best

After her first Wednesday night in our student ministry service, I asked my daughter if anyone from her class attended. She reported sitting by “the two most popular girls in school.” This is the first time I can remember her talking about popularity. Something about the move from elementary to middle school creates a shift in social dynamics.

These middle school years are the start of the search for belonging.  Am I a band kid? An athlete? An academic? Where do I fit in? They are trying to find their strengths and their tribe.

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor 13:7)

This journey toward competency can be a roller coaster ride for both parent and child. The tears during homework will flow, either from your eyes or hers. There will be sulking over the wrong label in her jeans. The blush over being selected for the team will thrill you both. Through the ups and downs, we must encourage our tweens to believe the best about themselves, inspiring hope for their future. And, when things are tough, we hunker down with them and wait for the storm to end.

I am right here with you, trying to figure out how to navigate the dicey waters of these middle school years. Once I adjust the rudder, the winds of her mood shift and I am fighting the current once again. I am determined to stay the course, fighting to remain in the boat. Love keeps me anchored and I will hold her here with me.