Today’s guest post comes from Michelle Icard, a.k.a Michelle in the Middle. I met Michelle when I was giving a talk in Charlotte, NC. Afterward, we were on a panel together and I found her ideas so compelling I had to ask for a piece of paper to take notes! What she knows about middle schoolers could fill a book — and now it does: She’s the author of Middle School Makeover: Improving The Way You and Your Child Experience the Middle School Years . (Boldface is mine.) – Lenore
Assistant Managers Needed in the Risk Department by Michelle Icard
If you’re the parent of a tween, you know things start to get pretty confusing around the time your child enters 5th grade and all the way through middle school. Your kid craves — in fact, needs — independence. Often, you may find yourself torn between how much is too much…and maybe your kid is, too.
If only we knew exactly the right age to let our kids have smart phones, go on dates, start wearing make-up, or stay at the mall after dark with friends.
But while there may not be hard and fast rules for these rites of passage, there is clear research that shows:
A) The adolescent brain is biologically compelled to take risks – a wonderful thing, we should remind ourselves, otherwise our kids might would get extra comfy in front of the Xbox and decide applying to college or getting a job just aren’t worth it. And
B) Positive risks feels just as satisfying to a teen’s brain as negative risks. In other words, the kid who auditions for the school play gets the same rush as the kid who steals his dad’s beer. We should be pushing our kids to do things that scare them – and us – to satisfy the biological need for risk so that they don’t find more dangerous ways to satisfy it themselves.
OK, so the “when” of taking risks may be vague and a struggle for parents, but the “why” is clear. And to help with the “how,” I offer this: by the time your child is transitioning to middle school, you’ve established yourself as family manager. You’ve managed schedules, arranged carpools, fixed pop-up problems, doled out appropriate consequences and generally taken full responsibility for the success of your team. Today, I have good news.
You’re getting demoted!
Once your children enter middle school, they need practice solving their own problems, managing their own schedules, evaluating risk, and anticipating consequences. What they need is for you to become a really good assistant manager. Think back to the best manager you ever had. What qualities did they possess that helped you be successful at your job?
Let me guess: Consistent communication, clear expectations, freedom to explore your own options, not overly emotional, trust, respect for your private life, ability to lead without micro-managing, etc. This is your “how.” Think of this as your job description for the next few years. Inversely, remember the worst manager you ever worked for and, well, don’t do what he or she did.
You may not know exactly the right times to let your kids take the next big steps toward independence, but keeping in mind the how and why of letting your kids do things on their own might help the timing fall into place a little bit more easily. Good luck! – M.I.