Parenting teens isn’t all bad, as some may sway you to believe. In middle school, you have the opportunity to share answers to these four questions and give your child confidence as he or she enters the teen years.

As your role transitions from leader to coach in your child’s life, look at it as a means of helping them understand:

  • What are my values, and how do I live by them when others my age aren’t?
  • Who am I, and why do I matter?
  • Who are my friends, and can I trust them?
  • What if I’m anxious, worried, or sad — what next?

The way your child answers these foundational beliefs about himself, his values, and his or her friendships will pave the way for a smoother ride through the teen years if they can develop confidence, assurance in their identity, and know what to watch out for in friendships.

Coaching Middle School Teens as a Parent

If you’re the parent of a middle schooler, you probably recognize they don’t always want your help anymore. Gone are the days of needing your assistance to tie their shoes, decide what to wear, or make a friend. (Remember playdates?)

Instead, this developmental stage is where tweens and teens start to assert their independence. Even if they don’t know the answers, they like to think they do. That’s okay — it’s actually appropriate for their age, especially if you don’t want them living in your basement forever.

We recommend you lead them to think about their values by talking to them after church and asking them if anything stood out to them. You can also take them to volunteer with you; usually, by ages 10 to 12, some organizations allow tween or teen volunteers. Try your local food pantry, a pet shelter, or even volunteering together to serve in the church nursery or at a local home for senior citizens.

The church service itself or even the volunteer opportunity isn’t the point; helping your child come up with her own takeaways is far more important. You may need to ask open-ended questions, share what stood out to you, or even raise a question that you didn’t understand. It shows that you’re still forming some of your own opinions, and that is okay.

Values can be anything your child wants to stand for as he or she gets older.

When your child comes up with his or her own values, he or she will be MUCH more likely to stand by them in difficult times. That’s why transferring ownership of your child’s faith is so important at this stage. Letting him or her have options makes a world of difference.

You might ask, “Would you rather go to youth group on Wednesday nights or serve with us in the nursery while families attend a parenting class this week?” Or, “Would you be interested in serving in another area of the church?” You could also prompt them to share what they’re learning about in church, who is in their small group, and which friends they seem to connect with.

Service is important to us at Learnwell; that’s why we build into our school calendar opportunities for students and families to serve together a few times each year.

Helping Your Middle School Students With Their Identity

When your middle school student (or even as young as fourth grade) wonders if friends will like them, it’s usually a deeper question that they may not have realized yet. Essentially, they’re asking, “Who am I, and am I enough?”

At Learnwell, we explore identity through the lens of a Christian worldview and a belief in God as their purposeful, loving Creator. Students participate in,discipleship in grades K-5th in large group formats. They learn about God’s character and why He is trustworthy.

As students enter middle school, they take part in a curriculum based on what the Bible teaches about how each one is created in God’s image to reflect His glory. The discipleship teacher is wonderful at walking students through this curriculum with wonder, providing opportunities for students — no matter where they are in their faith journey — to ask questions about who God is and what their purpose in life is.

We want to facilitate conversations at home that are positive, thoughtful, and that coordinate well with what you’re teaching as parents — primarily that a student’s identity isn’t rooted in what he or she looks like on the outside or how they feel inside, but it’s resting on the solid work of Christ on their behalf because of a God who loves them without conditions or limits.

Guiding Your Teen to Fruitful Friendships

Helping your teen with friend issues is common at this stage. Our community of students is taught early on to be respectful, kind, and to mirror the biblical values that our school’s core values are built on: intentional margin, deep faith, excellent education and authentic community.

Authentic community is where our middle school students shine. They’re supportive and inclusive, and genuinely enjoy spending time together at school and — in many cases — outside of school.

While we can’t create community for our teens, we can certainly help them build it on principles that are meaningful. At Learnwell, we talk about what it means to be a good friend, how to support friends when they’re having a rough day, sharing prayer requests weekly in middle school devotions, and being curious — asking kind, inclusive questions as we learn about each other.

Encourage your teen to think about what he or she can do to meet others.

  • Are their mutual interests that can be a springboard to make friends?
  • Would an extracurricular activity give your child a chance to meet like-minded students her age?
  • Does your child want to start a club or activty that’s new and may involve others who want the same thing?

We’re open to letting our middle and high school students form clubs and activities. We take their feedback seriously. That’s why we developed AFT, an after-school monthly hangout time just for middle school students. The idea was proposed by students for students a few years ago, and it’s still going strong.

Our leadership team loves it when a student proposes an idea, thoughtfully considers its implementation, and presents it to either a teacher or another person in leadership.

Giving Your Child Autonomy of Their Emotions and Interests

Many students in the middle school age range have struggled at some point with anxiety, fear, or doubt — certainly some more than others. So what’s a parent to do? How do we answer their questions about anxiety and fear? About depression or sadness?

We like to give students autonomy of their emotions by validating them. We all have feelings, and feelings aren’t bad. In fact, they often lead us to explore what’s beneath the emotion. Is the anxiety related to fear about losing a friend? Is the sadness a clue that you need some downtime or time to have a little fun?

One of the ways we encourage students to think about their emotions is to talk with an adult teacher, leader or mentor they trust. We also encourage students to spend time outdoors, take a break, and or do something they enjoy. It’s one reason we have five breaks throughout the school year. We believe in family time and having margin to do things that fill students’ cups.

Another way we like to think of autonomy is through leadership. Students as young as kindergarten and as old as seventh grade have the opportunity to participate in Club Days. It’s where they dream up leading a club, either on their own or with another friend, about an area that interests them. Here are just a few of the interests in which students have led their peers through Club Day:

  • Reptile Club
  • Soccer Club
  • Art Club
  • Music Club
  • Animal Clubs

We believe every student is wired with gifts and talents, designed by God for a purpose. That’s why we coach them in how to lead a club and then review after the club how it went and what can be updated for the next time they want to lead one.

Giving your child a chance to take risks, come up with his or her own ideas, try new things, and explore are great ways to build their autonomy. They learn that taking ownership is okay, and it’s also okay to fail, start over, decide that an activity isn’t for them and try something different.

Middle school doesn’t have to be a tricky landscape. Navigating these years can be challenging at times, but try to remember the rewards you’ll see in your child as he or she finds an interest he or she likes, takes on a new responsibility, or makes new friends.