The Importance of the MIddle School Years

Photo by  Jonny McLaren  on  Unsplash

We all have memories of middle school - the excitement, the transition, the challenges. Middle school is just that - in the middle. Our kids are caught between the fun and playful elementary years and adolescence, where they develop into their own independent adult selves. It seems like there are headlines left and right about cutting back on recess, the need for more critical thinking in curriculum, and the push for a later start time for school so kids can get more sleep.

So knowing we already need to find the balance between play, academics and sleep, we also find ourselves navigating new territory (both kids and parents) with regard to relationships, emotions, and responsibility.

So much happens in the middle school years - how can parents support the growth and development? How can we nurture the fun and exploration as we watch our little cherubs emerge into independent adults?

On our most recent episode of Parenting Beyond the Headlines we spoke with Teri Schrader, Head of School at Watkinson School, about the importance of these years. Listen to the full podcast to get a sense of what it is to live in the culture of middle school, the issues they face, and the opportunities the experience offers.

Metric Anxiety

Photo by  ROBIN WORRALL  on  Unsplash

Metric Anxiety Defined

How many reposts/likes/shares/retweets did you get this week? As human beings, it’s natural to seek approval from society - and many tweens and teens crave it. However, when these types of metrics begin to affect your self-worth, confidence, and wellness, you may be suffering from something called Social Media Metric Anxiety;  an intense feeling of stress or discomfort based on how you perceive your level of popularity on platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. You might be feeling it, and your tween or teen is likely feeling it too.

On average, we spend about two and a half hours per day on social media. These applications can be a valuable communication outlet used to connect with friends and family, potential customers, and those with similar interests. The harm comes when we become fixated on quantifying the attention our own posts receive  and equating them with our value as people. 

Social Media Currency

It can be easy to fall into the pattern of thinking, “I got X amount of likes and reactions on this post, it was a good day,” at any age. When we share our lives publicly – whether it’s vacation photos, career successes, parenting milestones, etc. – we want others to acknowledge and approve of our achievements. If we become too digitally invested in the numbers or “metrics” of a post, it may become easy to find ourselves missing out on the magic of those very real and fleeting moments when our focus is “what angle/caption/background will get the most likes?”.

Breaking the Cycle

The next time you find yourself checking alerts, tallying views, and looking for acknowledgement on social media, it may help to remind yourself of why a moment was special enough to begin with to want to share it.  The why is the most important factor after all. Recall the real emotion behind the post - was it joy, pride, sadness, reflection? 

Another solution is limiting your time on social media. If you are bored and find yourself gravitating towards your phone, pick up a book instead.  In lieu of opening your laptop, open the door and go outside. Create boundaries for yourself and your kids. And hold yourself accountable to your new routine!

If you frequently use social media, it is important to take a moment every now and then to assess how it makes you feel. Anxiety, low self-esteem, and stress are signs that you may need to limit your exposure. It can be hard to see it in your own behavior - make this a family conversation. And always remember that photos and status updates and witty captions are only one side of the story. YOU control your sense of self-worth. 

Conversation Starters

Consider talking with your kids directly. Be open to their ideas and suggestions:

  • Start by sharing your own experiences and concerns

  • How would you feel if you didn’t check your phone every day, hour, minute? Why? Should we try?

  • What would happen if you didn’t check every app every day?

  • Are there apps that make you anxious or you get excited about:

    • Do you dread checking any of them for fear of not getting the kind of response you were hoping for?

    • Do you get really excited about checking any of them?

  • Are there any apps we could try deleting to see how it goes?


Parenting Adults with Abilities

brooke-cagle-8jp-6SjVibM-unsplash.jpg

In the last decade, we’ve seen the conversation about adults with disabilities shift and evolve.  What happens to our young adults with disabilities after they age out of the school system?  Thankfully, eyes are opening...and folks are realizing that - with a little assistance - these men and women can thrive - with jobs and independent living situations.

We are seeing an increase in support services and programs as well as in opportunities for continued employment. I know in my own home town, a mother of a child with disabilities just started a cafe where she employs people with disabilities.

On Parenting Beyond the Headlines, we talked with Helen Bosch, CEO, Vista Life Innovations, a full-service organization supporting individuals with disabilities throughout the various stages of life. Helen, discusses the work of Vista and the students there as well as offers some concrete examples. You can listen to the full podcast below or on iTunes.

Start Building Trust with Your Children Today

We all want to build that special relationship with our kids where whether they're celebrating, deliberating, or disappointed, they come to us to share in that experience. We want that trust with our kids, but trust doesn't build on its own. When parents want to build trust intentionally, it can be hard to know where to start. Consider: 

When have you built trust with your kids and how?, and 2) if you have not, what you can do to change that.

What Makes You Trust People or, Not?

Did you go to your parents when you needed to talk? Try to think back to the concerns and stresses you had when you were young. If you did go to your parents, why? When? If you didn't go to your parents for advice or to talk things through, why was that? Have you created similar barriers with your child? How might you start to break those barriers down? 

Acknowledgement Doesn't Equal Permissiveness

Teens and tweens are in a stage of pushing boundaries, learning about their own preferences, choice-making, and they're also experiencing strong emotions they may not be prepared to handle yet. The key is to impose appropriate consequences if your teen makes a bad or unsafe decision - and talk through the decision-making process. Sometimes the conversation is the appropriate consequence. Talk about alternatives or what healthy future choices might look like. Remember, we build trust through discussion, and it isn't a discussion if you don't equally listen and give a chance for response, disagreement, and compromise with your child. 

Photo by  Joe Yates  on  Unsplash

Photo by Joe Yates on Unsplash

What Does It Mean to Be A Trustworthy Person?

Another way of examining the type of environment you have created with your child is to analyze first on your own, what makes a person trustworthy? Ask your child what they consider makes someone trustworthy. Consider this list of characteristics:

  • empathetic

  • a good listener

  • honest

  • responsible

  • open

  • strong character

  • compassionate

Are you that person for your child? Point out the things you do intentionally to show them that they can trust you. If you identify areas in which you need to grow to be a more trustworthy person for your child, talk about that. For example, if you haven't been a good listener in the past, apologize and explain that you are working to be a better listener because you know that is important to a healthy relationship. 

How You React Matters

As parents, we each have unique personalities that react to situations differently. Part of building trust with your child is identifying how you are likely to respond in common situations, and finding ways to make sure that reaction is fair to your child. If you tend to react impulsively, give yourself a chance to pause and think through your response before committing to a stance on what your teen has brought up. If you tend to be quiet and struggle to contribute to conversations, practice modeling vulnerability, and openness. It can feel like a lot of pressure hearing that your reactions matter - but the reality is, you won't always react perfectly. What you can always do is apologize if you react in a way that hurts your child, and be vulnerable about how you plan to work on that response. 

You're Paving The Way for Future Healthy Relationships

Building trust with your children isn't just about you and them. When you model openness, pausing, active listening, apologizing, fairness, and trust, you're teaching your child what to look for in future friends and partners. 

Trust is a two-way street, so as you examine your current relationship with your child and think about plans to improve, involve them in that process. Sometimes just being open to ideas and sharing is enough. For example, you could say something like, "I read a blog today about building trust and how important it is to build with your kids. It gave me some ideas of ways we could communicate better and trust each other more." 

What are you currently doing to build trust? What’s working? What’s not?

Mixed Messaging of Legalizing Marijuana

Photo by  Roberto Valdivia  on  Unsplash

Photo by Roberto Valdivia on Unsplash

The trend of legalizing recreational marijuana may be giving children and teens a mixed message about the drug. While there are many touted benefits and even use of non-addictive forms, it can affect a developing brain in ways we don’t even yet fully understand. On top of that, it can have affects on judgment and decisions.

Teens and tweens are susceptible to risk-taking and it makes sense they may want to experiment for a variety of reasons. It’s also important for them to understand the risks they are taking.

On our most recent episode of Parenting Beyond the Headlines, we talked with Jim Maffuid, Executive Director of Child Guidance Clinic for Central CT and father of 4 young adults. Jim specializes in helping families prevent, recognize and overcome addiction. Jim helped us understand some of the terminology and shared some options for talking with our kids about this complicated topic.

Nurture Self Esteem

Teaching our children healthy habits to build self-esteem often starts with our own journey. That doesn't mean you need to have it all together for your kids to develop good habits—in fact, the more transparent you are about your own struggles and victories, the more your kids can see you modeling persistence. By being open, vulnerable, and intentional, you can create a safe space for your kids to grow. Create a space where they can ask questions and observe the practice of forming healthy habits, such as activity, nutrition, confidence, agency, and self-esteem. Here are a few places to start.

Focus on Strength

It's easy to start with outward appearance. We love our kids inside and out, but finding the right language to empower them without focusing on compliments or comments related to physical appearance can be difficult in our society. Focus on what your children can do, the strength and power of their minds and bodies, and how they can use that to accomplish their goals. 

Be Your Own Fan Club

Self-deprecation is so easy to fall into, and the constant negative thoughts sometimes spill out into comments about ourselves, our bodies, and our successes or failures. I know I've been there where I catch myself Should-Ing on myself (counting those things I didn't accomplish when Sunday evening rolls around) instead of enjoying a quiet moment with my kids. Our kids see us and see how we view ourselves, and they often mimic that behavior. If we display self support, validating ourselves the way we would validate our kids then our kids will learn to do the same.

Support Independence & Celebrate Uniqueness

The world of activities and self-expression are boundless, especially for a kid. Another way you can help your children find hobbies and habits leading to self-esteem is by asking them things like, "what makes you special?" or "what do you think I love about you?" Help them identify their own hobbies, favorite foods, ask them for input on family activities, their wardrobe, afternoon activities and even the kind of shows they like most--this builds ownership of their choices and habits, which empowers your kids to build a confident sense of self. 

Building self-esteem is not a linear journey, and that's okay! Encourage your kids to make their own choices and teach them to live with the consequences of the choices and disappointment. Be prepared for choices that may differ from yours. Encourage persistence. You're here to guide, encourage, and build those habits right along with your children.


The Many Influences on Body Image

Photo by  iso topon  on  Unsplash

Photo by iso topon on Unsplash

Everything in moderation - right? That goes for food and screen time. We’re seeing a connection between our use of technology and our eating habits. This mix is also affecting our teens’ and tweens’ body image. And have you ever heard of moralizing food choices? I sure hadn’t.

So what is the effect of our own eating and our screen time on our kids’ body image? And how can they develop a healthy outlook? On our most recent episode of Parenting Beyond the Headlines, we talked with Emotional Eating Coach, Carey Niekrash. She helped us understand eating right and helping our kids understand the importance of healthy choices - food and screen-wise.