By Dr. Jan Hittelman
Q: My child is in middle school and not interested in doing the daylong-supervised activities that worked so well in elementary school. How do I balance my need to provide him with safety and structure during break with his desire to relax and be more in charge of what he does?
A: Middle school represents a dramatic shift in development as children begin their journey through adolescence. The challenge you’re experiencing is a function of this transitional time in you child’s life. Our children are aware of this shift much sooner than we are. It is important we understand that as our child changes, so too must our parenting techniques. Whether we realize it or not, as parents of middle school children, we are faced with a fork in the road in terms of our parenting approach; we can either continue to parent as we did before, or allow our parenting strategy to evolve along with our children.
Parents of younger children need to provide them with structure, guidelines, and direction. When they begin moving through adolescence, we must shift our approach by encouraging our children to think for themselves. During this time of development, children struggle to create their own structure, guidelines, and direction. As parents we want to nurture this growth and become good advisors in helping them make healthy choices.
By letting you know that he wants to relax and be more in charge of what he does, your child is letting you know that you have come to that fork in the road. You can either try to force your way and register him for daylong-supervised activities during spring break or you could have an in-depth discussion with him about his concerns as well as yours. Even if at the end of that discussion you make the decision to enroll him in those programs, you have shown him the respect that a young adolescent needs as he begins the journey to adulthood. Better yet, perhaps you can integrate one or more of his ideas into the spring break plan. Just as we can teach our children, they can teach us as well, if we are truly able to listen.