The following is an excerpt from my upcoming book, Middle School Years Without Tears: Creating and Managing for Wonderful, Awesome, Successful, and Thrilling Middle School Experiences.
Positive, loving boundaries. Despite what you hear and experience from your child, kids at this age want to know the boundaries still exist for them because they like to “bounce” off or test those boundaries. The bouncing off and testing are not necessarily negative. This is their way of making sure you are still there for them.
For example, the boundary is to be home on the weekdays by 9:30 pm because everyone in the house would like a decent night’s sleep. “You’re in middle school not high school,” you explain. You may add that as he gets older the time may change, but for now it is 9:30 pm. You may be questioned every time before your middle schooler goes out of the house with friends. You may get lots of huffing and puffing. You make get eye rolling. You may get, “But Daaaadd!!” You may get an adolescent’s attempt to explain why the time needs to be later.
And…you may experience him coming in a few minutes late. You may encounter your child sneaking in at 10:00 or later. Oh my! What are you going to do now? Well, you have options! Consider what is the best for your child? What is the best for your family? Certainly, an option is to get mad and threaten or deliver an unwanted consequence. How does this feel to you? Another option is to let it slide and sorta joke about coming in later than the expectation. How does this feel to you?
Another possible option is to discuss with your child what happened that he did not come back to the house at the designated time. Ask questions about the evening. Ask about the established and expected time of arrival back and why it didn’t happen. Through the discussion you can obtain ideas from your child what to do with this situation. Many times it is the child who will suggest taking a break from going out till he feels he can come back at the established time. Other times, it will be you, the parent, who will need to establish a new expectation of staying with the family till he can understand the reasoning behind the established time of return to the family, which is a natural consequence to coming in late. Either way, it is important that the boundary of the established time to be back with the family unit is honored by you and by him. Why? Comfort. It is comforting to have a boundary for your child.
You may respond with: “It is comforting? That is not how my child reacts! There is nothing that says to me that my child needs this comfort nor appreciates the comfort of the established curfew. It is usually a difficult, near-daily, miserable conversation for me.”
Yes, it might not seem like students are comforted. You may get the excuses, the eye rolling, and the huffing and puffing all over again. But, zoom fifteen years into the future and your child, now in his late twenties, will remember that you were there and provided the boundary for her safe keeping. You might even get a, “Thanks, Mom.”
Look at the opposite situation. A parent says to return home on weekdays at 9:30 pm. The child already knows that she can return whenever because the parent does not really pay attention to what the child does or requires the expectations to be adhered. She returns past the 9:30 pm time. Nothing is said. Maybe the parents are already asleep, thus there is no way to check when the child came home. The child feels lost. “Doesn’t anyone care that I got home late?” The child goes through this adolescent time wavering and fluctuating wildly not really sure how to act in life’s situations. “Where is the boundary? How am I supposed to act?” It feels like a feather in the wind. It feels like a lost kid at the county fair. It feels like a white fluffy dandelion seed floating to wherever.
The child loses respect for the parent because she knows that the parent is slacking with the parenting role. This middle schooler knows that the parents are to enforce the curfew. One thing middle school kids can do easily is detect a fake. The child becomes angry. The feelings fester and the not knowing just where she stands in the realm of her house is extremely frustrating. “Am I important? Am I to be here at this time or not? Where am I to be?” the child mentally cries out. Middle school students need age appropriate boundaries, which provide the security and safety to move toward becoming an adult.
There are some middle schoolers who are so in tune with their inner Truth, Wisdom, and Knowingness that boundaries do not carry the same importance. Testing the boundaries is just not needed. The parent and the middle schooler agree upon a time together out of mutual respect for each other’s needs: the middle schooler’s need for socialization and the parent’s need to know the child is safe. There are still boundaries supporting the child, though. These boundaries include staying where the parent thinks he is, informing the parent if the child goes to a new location, and involving himself with positive activities that are in alignment with his Truth only.
Boundaries play an important role with any middle schooler’s life if approached in such a way that feels good to both parties: child and parent. The boundaries provide a loving safety net for the activities middle schoolers wish to participate in. Isn’t this like any activity any person want to participate at any age? To honor any activity in which anyone wants to participate, there are boundaries that support the participant so that person can obtain the most enjoyment from the activity. Are there boundaries for rock climbing? Yes! Are there boundaries for sky diving? Yes! Are there boundaries for driving a car? Yup. A rock climber wants to return from the experience safely and be able to share the experience with others. A sky diver prefers an intact body with no twisted ankles upon return to Earth. A car driver deems it a good trip if safely arriving at the destination without scratches, dings, or dents to the car. There are ways to achieve these desires through honoring the boundaries. In this light, boundaries support all the participants in this time of middle school: the student and the parents.