7 Middle school parenting tips: Supporting kids in the messy middle

Middle school can be a challenging and transformative time for both parents and children alike. As your child navigates the complex world of modern adolescence, it’s critical as a parent to cultivate the right balance of support and independence your child needs to thrive during this challenging time. Let’s dig into these seven actionable middle school parenting tips and strategies to help make this exciting phase of your child’s life as smooth as possible.

Middle School 1 - Parent & Child hugging

Why is middle school such a difficult time for kids and parents?

Middle school — the tweenage land of newfound academic responsibilities, erratic hormones, and social hierarchies that could rival Game of Thrones. It is no wonder this transitional period can be such a challenging time for both kids and parents.

Middle school kids experience multiple transitions at once

In middle school, kids are dropped into a whole new world of academic schedules and expectations. Suddenly, nobody is guiding them as they travel the looming school halls to different classrooms, learn the varying expectations and interact with multiple teachers daily, and are forced to juggle the pile of school and homework assignments. It’s enough to make anyone feel overwhelmed.

Kids are faced with new emotions and changing bodies as those lovely hormones hit and trigger the start of puberty. Suddenly, even the most confident and intelligent child might find themselves confused, self-conscious, and sometimes just plain moody. 

And you can’t forget the middle school social dynamics that come into play. Kids may feel pressure to find a group to belong to or separate into small cliques, prioritizing fitting in over friendship and kindness. They may find themselves face-to-face with uncomfortable choices they’d only previously heard about in the movies or school-mandated awareness videos. Peer pressure combined with the desire to fit in can be intense, even for the strongest child.

Middle School 2 - Adolescent girl thinking

Parents’ roles also change as their middle schooler grows up

The transition isn’t easy for the parents either. 

Many parents debate how much independence to give their adolescents while still protecting them. They might worry about their child’s ability to handle the increased responsibility and academic pressures. 

Watching their once-delightful child’s attitude turn rude and erratic is hard for any parent to handle, often leading to feelings of loss and frustration.  Parents may witness signs of disturbing behavior and the influence of peer pressure but struggle to communicate with their indifferent middle schooler effectively.

Standing back and giving your adolescent the room to grow and learn from their mistakes is one of the hardest things to do as a parent. By taking a balanced approach of guiding and empowering, you can support your child through these confusing years.

Middle School Parenting Tips: How to support your child through the messy middle school years

If you are a parent looking to help your adolescent during this challenging transition from child to young adult, keep these middle school parenting tips in mind.

Middle School 3 - Adolescent boy ignoring his parents

1

Establish boundaries

As a parent, it’s essential to establish boundaries with your middle-schooler. Remember, you’re their parent, not their friend.

Middle school is when every child will start exploring their independence and testing boundaries. As their parent, it is your job to set clear expectations with them — then enforce them consistently. This includes laying out ground rules for completing school work and chores, and defining appropriate behavior in and outside the home.

With the appropriate guidance, structure, and discipline, you will help your child develop essential life skills such as responsibility, respect for authority, and self-discipline. 

Sometimes, being a parent means making tough decisions and being the bad guy. Yes, staying firm on your rules is hard with a twelve-year-old girl screaming “I hate you!” hysterically as you’re trying to cook dinner. (True story, maybe?) Don’t worry, you’re doing the right thing, Mama. And one day, your child will realize this, too.

2

Let them learn from their mistakes

It’s only natural to want to protect your child throughout life — it’s ingrained in our parental DNA. But if you want to help your child grow during these difficult years, you have to take a step back and let them learn from their mistakes.

The middle school years are crucial as adolescents learn independence and discover their identities. And, as we all know, the best way to learn is through our mistakes. This is how your child will learn resilience and problem-solving skills to aid them through future challenges.

As your child stumbles through the obstacle course of tweenage mistakes, your role as a parent should look different than before — but it’s still essential to facilitate their process of growing up. Encourage your child’s independence while maintaining open communication. Offer advice and guide them to reflect on their choices.

Give your child the freedom to learn from their own mistakes while reassuring them that you will always be there to love and support them.

Middle School 5 - front of middle school building

3

Get involved in their lives

One of the most effective ways to support your child during the middle school years is by staying engaged in their school and personal life. 

Attend parent-teacher conferences and back-to-school nights, join the PTA, and volunteer at school events. By actively participating at your child’s school, you demonstrate that you value their education, and establish relationships and maintain communication with their teachers and administrators.

Stay up to speed on your child’s personal life. Actively listen when they talk about their day or any struggles they may face. Learn their friends’ names and understand what they value in these relationships. Show genuine interest in their hobbies and passions by asking them questions and learning what makes them tick. 

Keep up with family life traditions, such as trips and quality time, to maintain family ties. The tween and teen years are an important time to create memories together to strengthen your family relationship, and make the most of these last few pre-college/adult years with your child.

Keep in mind that all middle schoolers are unique; some may seek more hands-on involvement, while others prefer more autonomy. Find the right balance of involvement that strengthens without hindering your relationship with your child.

Middle School 6 - Adolescent studying

4

Help them develop life skills

Ensure your middle schooler is equipped for a successful life by teaching them important life skills. Look for areas they are struggling with as they face the new academic and social landscape of middle school.

Is your child easily stressed when asked to take on too much at once? Help your child develop a system to organize and break down their responsibilities into more manageable chunks to avoid the overwhelm.

Have you noticed your once-active kiddo now comes home from school, rushes through homework, and then slumps in front of the TV to play video games? Build healthy habits as a family by taking family walks or bike rides, or encourage them to engage in their favorite sports and activities with friends.

Does your adolescent struggle with making new friends? Encourage them to join clubs or participate in extracurricular activities they are passionate about to meet like-minded peers.

Be honest about where your child’s strengths and opportunities lie to create a personalized supportive approach during these transitional years.

Middle School 7 - Mother making adolescent daughter laugh

5

Communication is key

Communication is vital for any relationship, but it’s especially critical to maintain an open dialogue with your tween. Not only do you want your child to feel comfortable talking with you during these impressionable years, but it’s even more important that they know they have your love and support no matter what happens.

Regularly check in with them about school and their friends.  Prioritize one-on-one quality time and ask open-ended questions to facilitate deeper, more meaningful conversations. By actively listening and showing genuine interest in their life, you create a safe space and strengthen your parent-child relationship.

Keep an ear open for anything unusual and note any changes in their communication style. While it’s completely normal (and healthy) for adolescents to desire privacy, sudden changes may indicate an underlying issue. Stay aware and ensure they know your door is always open for them.

6

Keep calm and parent on

Patience is one of the top parenting skills you must master starting day one. But staying calm with a moody, volatile adolescent requires an entirely different type of patience than parenting a tired two-year-old. (Although, there are arguably many similarities in the tantrums of a toddler and a tween!)

Do your best to keep calm and avoid overreacting as your child works through the rollercoaster of adolescent emotions. These outbursts, tears, and episodes of shutting down indicate one common factor — your child is trying to find their way through all the significant emotional, physical, and social changes.

Give your child the compassion, understanding, and patience they need to support them during this difficult journey.

Middle School 8 - Adolescent boy hiding face

7

Get comfortable with the uncomfortable

This last of the middle school parenting tips is often overlooked (or brushed under the rug)  — because it’s uncomfortable. Which is precisely why you (the parent!) need to get over your hang-ups and get comfortable talking about the good, the bad, and the ugly topics of life.

Middle school is when your innocent child will find themselves face-to-face with the inevitable TV-MA topics that were only whispered about on the elementary school playground. 

Girls have started wearing bras and will get their first menstrual periods. Boys will start to experience erections in private and in public. They may have their first boyfriend or girlfriend; they might hold hands in the hall or sneak off to make out behind the bleachers. 

Kids will start to discuss (or at least hear about) skipping school, sex, masturbation, drugs, and alcohol. They might question their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Rumors and bullying spread like wildfire thanks to the lightning speed of social media. And every kid today attending school must be prepared for the worst nightmare imaginable —  a mass shooting — through routine safety drills and armed guards on campus.

I don’t envy tweens and teens these days, and I appreciate that these difficult topics are hard for parents to acknowledge — let alone talk about. But if you aren’t willing to push through your uncomfortable feelings and have honest, direct conversations with your child — then who will?

Get comfortable with all the dirty, messy, and uncomfortable obstacles that modern-day adolescents face. Do it for your child to teach them to be comfortable enough to talk about these topics, too. You never know when they might need to.

Middle School 8 - Adolescent boy hiding face

Parenting for middle school success

As the mother of a daughter just entering middle school, I’ve given a lot of thought to preparing her for these challenging years while supporting her through the failed tests, the missed assignments, the mean girls, and the heartbreak. 

I definitely don’t have all the answers, but I’ve found these middle school parenting tips help parents stay in tune with their child’s needs at any time. Every kid is different. Every day is different. But just by being there for your child — watching, listening, advising, supporting, and loving them — you have already set a precedent for middle school success.

Navigate the messy middle together

The middle school years will have their fair share of ups and downs for your child and you. Remember to be patient and understanding of all family members as you walk through this transformative phase together. 

With your love and guidance, you can give your child the support they need to navigate the messy middle school and teen years to become a strong and resilient young adult.


Have you survived parenting a middle schooler? What tips and advice would you give parents facing this messy transitional period? Comment and share below!

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6 Comments

  1. I love this post! My oldest nephew is in middle school and even as an aunt it’s hard to know how to respond to the moodiness and uncomfortable moments. I love your advice to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. I’ll definitely be implementing this!

    1. That’s such an important piece Christine, but often the hardest! I’m so glad to hear how supportive and involved you are with your nephew, he’s lucky to have you.

  2. These are some very good tips. I remember when my kids were in middle school and it was a rough time. Our kids go through major changes. I enjoyed reading and it’s excellent advice. Will pass on to my daughter who is not raising my grandkids.

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