Free Expert Tips for Navigating the Middle School Years
Michelle Icard and family
Courtesy of Icard family
I remember dreading the day when my sons would enter middle school. I’d heard so much from other parents about how difficult that time was for children as hormones kicked in, growth spurts happened — or didn’t — and peer pressure seemed to matter more than anything else. And sure enough, recent research shows that for moms, parenting a child in middle school is the single most stressful time of their lives. My sons and I got through those difficult years, but now that I think back, it would have been helpful if I’d been able to tap into expert parenting advice at that time.
On Tuesday, March 22, 7-8:30 p.m., parents in the Triangle have a free opportunity to gain insight from nationally-acclaimed author and educator Michelle Icard, who is scheduled to speak at Ravenscroft School in Raleigh on “Middle School Makeover: Shifting our Mindset about Middle School.” Icard has years of experience working with middle schoolers and their parents, and her talk will offer suggestions on ways to best understand and support middle schoolers. Although the event is free, you’ll need to reserve your spot online at this link.
Icard wrote "Middle School Makeover: Improving the Way You and Your Child Experience the Middle School Years," and she is also scheduled to speak on the “TODAY Show” March 16. Her work has been featured by TODAY Parents, Parents.com, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, CNN.com and The Huffington Post.
Ahead of her talk at Ravenscroft’s Jones Theatre (in the Fine Arts Building), I asked her to respond to a few of my questions about the middle school years. Here’s the Q&A:
Me: “Why is Middle School such a difficult time for parents?”
“Middle school is the perfect storm of circumstances to make any parent apprehensive. We worry about risky behaviors, kids valuing friends over family, social experimentation — and for good reason. These things do happen. But the more we understand why they happen and how to navigate our way through them, the easier and more enjoyable these years can be. A new study has found that moms of middle schoolers are more stressed than parents of any other age group. I'm here to explain why, and also give concrete tips for having a less stressed, more fun — yes, fun! — middle school experience.”
Me: “Is it a difficult time for students, too? If so, why?”
Icard: “Oh yes! Mid-life meets middle school is a recurring source of frustration. Kids and parents both tend to complain that the other "just doesn't understand." Even though it’s hard on kids — and many of us remember with crystal clarity how awkward or painful these years were — it is also a time of growth and excitement. Rather than perpetuate dread for the middle school years, I try to play up all the good that comes during this time. Remember how excited you were when your sweet baby started to walk? That's the same enthusiasm we ought to apply to the developmental changes that happen in middle school. Yes, it's messy. Yes, kids fall down a lot. Yes, they make a lot of mistakes. But learning what's developmentally appropriate (and necessary) to become a healthy, happy, independent adult will help parents celebrate the changes that happen in middle school instead of fear them.”
Me: “Can parents ease the middle school years by being prepared?”
Icard: “Absolutely! Once I explain to parents why their kids think and behave differently in middle school, I can see the tension dissipate. Really, it helps to know that this behavior serves a biological and developmental purpose. Plus, I've got a few helpful tricks for making communication and problem-solving much easier in middle school. When parents plan ahead for the major shifts brought on by middle school, they feel less like things are out of their control, and more intentional about their growing relationships with their kids. In response to all the changes of adolescence, parenting should change. But once parents know what to tweak, it's fairly easy to make the shift.”
Me: “Any other information you want to share?”
Icard: “As a parent of a middle schooler, I know the importance of having a sense of humor about this age. When I talk with parents, I rely on this. Come hear me talk for insights and strategies, as well as some funny observations to take the edge off!”
Photo of Michelle Icard courtesy of the author