I really love middle school kids. I have two of them! If you have been through middle-school parenting, you may have noticed what I see: Strange things seem to happen to a tween’s brain the first day they walk into middle school.
One might sum up their main goals in life this way:
• To be funny at all costs. (Hence, the silly bathroom jokes, talking at inappropriate times in class, and the “anything it takes to be popular” attitude.)
• To focus on SELF — their clothes, their nose, their body, and their hair.
• To try new things. They are playing “dress up” with their identity, trying on things to see what fits. They are impulsive and scattered, they are up and they are down, and it even seems that they have regressed in their development on their quest for independence.
As the parent, you are changing, too, as you enter the stage of parenting when you quickly depart from the naïve platform of “My child would never…” to the realization that, “I’m sure my child did that. I’m sorry, and please excuse his behavior, he is going through a phase.”
Your list of daily parenting instruction may include statements like:
• "If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all!"
• "How many times do I have to tell you not the use that word?"
• "Stop flipping that bottle!"
• "Stop burping the ABC’s!"
• "You’re acting like a 2-year-old."
• "What were you thinking?"
Then it happens: Maybe because we are exhausted from their constant begging for a phone, or because we think that all their friends have one, or because we want to upgrade ours to the latest model…we cave. We act on impulse. Our brain seems to regress like theirs, and we give them our old smartphone.
And with that one little decision comes the world of social media access—something we haven’t thought about and something none of us is prepared for. Because the midbrain is reorganizing itself and risk-taking is high and impulse control is low, I can’t imagine a worse time in a child’s life to have access to social media than middle school.