Travelling Tips for Middle School Field Trips
Put a fork in this school year, it is done. But before we start repurposing all of the backpacks for summer camp, it’s a great time to take a few minutes to start thinking about the year to come. If you are transitioning a child into middle school this fall, this is an important passage and, after the initial one of putting your baby on a bus to go to school at all, the most important one you will face thus far. While the shift from elementary to middle school may represent a monumental shift on all levels---mental, emotional, and physical, it also signifies the start of a new kind of relationship with your kid. Despite how it may sometimes feel, this new phase is not a battle to prepare for so much as a brave new world to visit.
With this in mind, we have some travelling tips to ease your way down this road.
1) Move Over, Rover
What we mean: Up until this moment, you have been in the driver’s seat. As the parent, you have charted the course, set the sails, and brought the ship around. Middle school marks the beginning of the end of your time as captain. It’s time to give your kid the wheel and give them a chance to navigate with you there right beside them.
What this looks like: If you have been managing schoolwork and sports up to this point, it’s time to slowly back away. Start with showing them how to use tools like Google Calendar so they can manage their projects, tests, and sports commitments themselves. Teach them to use the online gradebook that nearly every school has to see how they are doing. Model how to set up a good work zone and then back away and let them start making decisions about how they work best for themselves.
What this feels like: Moving to this new role in parenting can be very painful. We were rocking our parenting mojo and we liked steering our happy little family ship. But kids at this age need this time and space to start doing things on their own and a parent who can make the shift. This is the less physically demanding but more emotionally and mentally draining work of child-rearing. It’s also beautiful and rewarding when things are going well. Hold onto those moments when things get off-track and know that it’s completely normal and totally expected for kids to steer into rocks, break rudders, and generally beat the crap out of the boat during these years.
2) Trust But Verify
What we mean: One day at the pool, someone asked my husband Steve how parenting a teen was different than a six year old. Steve threw this out: “Not different at all. I still do what I’ve always done. Trust but verify.” It’s a play on the toddler truism, “Never turn your back on them”, and it just happens to be a critical part of the middle school parenting toolbox. Remember what we just said about giving them a little more leeway, a little more room to maneuver on their own? Let them chart their own course a little now, but do not surrender your parent card completely as you let them sail on their own.
What this looks like: Check in often---in person, on social media, at school, on the sports field. Be a presence everywhere. Ask about what they’re watching, listening to, consuming digitally.
What this feels like: Honestly, this can be a little exhausting at first. Middle school opens up many doors and one of the big ones it opens up is the world of social media. Helping your kid manage their relationship with technology is a crucial part of parenting at this stage. Check out our social media tips to explain where the kids are, what type of parental controls you might want, and ways to help your family manage technology. Even outside of managing social media, piecing together the real story from the breadcrumbs your kid gives you can be frustrating. Patience, Grasshopper. Channeling your inner peaceful warrior is the key here. We have also found that walking doesn’t just burn calories but also some of the tension and frustration. Get yourself a FitBit and some walking shoes.
3) Speak often and put down your stick.
What we mean: Poor Teddy Roosevelt wouldn’t like what we did with his saying, but our way works much better with middle schoolers. Kids this age are finding their voice and they want lots and lots and lots of opportunities to use it. What will make this harder? Drawing unnecessary, hard lines in the sand and creating conflict instead of conversation.
What this looks like: Be ready and willing to start conversations from anything including but not limited to social media, movies, TV shows, commercials, songs, pictures, magazine covers, and tin can food labels. We’re not kidding: be ready and willing to talk anywhere about anything at any time.
What this feels like: When the conversation flow is going well and everything is clicking, it feels like someone should crown you Parent of the Year, of the Century, of the Universe. When things are so very south of fine, it feels like just about anybody, including your bachelor brother who doesn’t even know if he wants kids, would be a better parent than you. In other words, it’s either soul-crushing or life-affirming. Welcome to the beautiful planet of middle school, buckle your seatbelts and enjoy the bumpy but beautiful ride.
4) Follow the Golden Rule.
What we mean: All we know about parenting through adolescence can be boiled down into simply this: treat kids the way that you would want to be treated. This is not “be a buddy” parenting or relegating your role as the adult, but it is an acknowledgment of the truth: kids are unique and valuable, if not yet fully formed, human beings. They are not extensions of ourselves but special unto themselves.
What this looks like: Our favorite piece of advice is to actively listen. Do you know what that sounds like? Well, if you are doing it right, not much at all. Make space in your home and your lives for conversation to happen. Build it into your family’s culture so that kids are comfortable coming to you to share whatever is on their minds. Then when they do talk, listen with your mind open and your mouth shut. Even one word that could be interpreted as judgment or criticism can shut down an important conversation. Master the art of the noncommittal hmmm.
What this feels like: It hurts. We like to joke that we should win awards for all the things we don’t say, but it’s true. On the flipside, It also feels really, really great when you are actually connecting with your child. We warned you it was a bumpy ride.
Middle school is going to be a great place for you and your child in the coming years. Summer is all about planning and taking trips, right? Use our travelling tips to talk to your child and plan some strategies you think will work for both of you in the coming months. Then you can both sit back and enjoy the ride. Just remember to pack sunscreen.
*The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility (Responsibility.org) or any Responsibility.org member.*