Thursday, July 28, 2011

Middle School: Don't Be An Ostrich!

I have my children that came from my womb and then I have a few other children who have climbed into my heart through other relationships.  Sydney Elizabeth was the first little darling that my heart adopted.  She is the daughter of one of my dearest friends and I have loved pouring into her life and watching her grow.  Pure joy.

A few years ago I began taking her to lunch around her birthday.  She gets to choose the place and we just hang out together for a while.  She usually chooses a burger and ice cream type place but this year was a bit different.  When I asked her where she wanted to go she chose the mall.  This was fine with me but it was the first sign of the day that she was no longer the little snuggle bug that I read Pat The Bunny to at bedtime.

Once we arrived at the mall I asked her if she wanted to eat first or shop first.  True to 11 year old form she chose shop and shop we did.  We spent the next hour in Justice thumbing through all the racks, reading every graphic tee and trying on potential school clothes.  I was quickly reminded of why I loved teaching middle school kids.  Everything is new and exciting through their eyes.  When they notice something for the first time they think that it is the first time anyone has noticed it.  They believe their ideas are revolutionary and they see nothing as impossible.

I couldn't help but get really excited for Sydney.  She was entering such a fun time of life.  Sure there will be bad to go with the good, but I know her family, and I have total faith that they will make it through middle school with the good out-weighing the bad. 

I can be confident of this because their parenting style will mesh great with the teen years.  As a middle school teacher I saw so many parents practice "ostrich parenting".  You know, the belief that if I don't see it then it isn't happening.  I can tell you that in my 7-years of middle school experience, I never saw this work.  Nothing good comes from ignoring the facts. Sydney's parents are not "ostrich parents".  They will not condone or encourage her in poor choices. They will make themselves aware of what Syd is being exposed to in the school hallway and in social situations and then help her navigate her own path.

When I was teaching, middle school parents would often ask me what they could do to better understand and relate to their student.  One of the things that I would suggest is that they read Seventeen Magazine on a regular basis.  Usually they would look at me like I was crazy.  They would think that there was no way that their child was talking about that kind of stuff.  I think most parents assume that the editors of those types of magazines write about extreme situations and not the real stuff that goes on in suburban towns.  Wrong.  Wrong. Wrong.

While it is probably true that your pre-teen or teen is not practicing these behaviors,  you are sadly mistaken if you think they are not talking about them or listening to others talk about them.  If you don't believe me, take a day and be a substitute teacher at a middle school.   Between classes hang out in the hall and bathrooms - you will not have to listen long to get my point.  And if you really want to feel like you are going to throw-up just intercept a few notes.  Wow.  Just wow. 

When I combine my college practicums with my professional teaching experience I taught in a variety of different atmospheres:  low income, middle class, upscale private, big city, small town, and church affiliated schools.  The kids situations were extremely different but their behaviors and ideology were remarkably similar. I have confiscated shocking notes from the elite and the yahoos.  Middle schoolers are socially and sexually curious and that does not change.

Now, I am not suggesting you freak out and go quiz your kid about what they know, but I do encourage you to open your ears and mind.  You need to filter your internet and monitor all social network sites.  It is also a good idea to have them bring you their phone and laptop at night.  Not because they are bad but because a 11-14 year old does not think before they act.  They are impulsive and impressionable.  I mean seriously, one of their favorite games is Truth or Dare.  Imagine what kind of dares can be thrown out if texting pictures is an option...

Anyways, Sydney and I finished our shopping and she chose lunch at Cinnabon.  Mmmm, cinnamon rolls for lunch.  Maybe middle school kids are as smart as they think!

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