Middle-School Milestones

3 Life Skills Tweens Should Have Heading Into The Teenage Years

An unofficial accounting of things your kid needs to master from about fifth to eighth grade, before high school.

Certain life skills will help tweens navigate the often-tricky waters of teenagehood (and high schoo...
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I have heard a lot about what teens need to know before college. And on the other end of the age spectrum, there are always kindergarten readiness lists. But what do tweens need to know before they enter the teenage years — and, especially, high school? Having gotten one kid to college and one halfway through senior year, I feel like I have a few ideas for what needs to happen between fifth and eighth grade.

IMO, the three areas they need "training" for are phones, friends, and food. Sure, you also need to have the sex talk and teach internet safety, but the following three life skills are less "big messages" and more gradual lessons that will benefit them in their day-to-day life as teens and high schoolers.

1. How to Talk on the Phone

According to The Washington Post, most kids who get a smartphone receive it in middle school. Tweens might be focused on using a phone for apps, games, and messaging, but it's during the tween years when they have to learn to make and receive calls — something our generation of parents learned at a much younger age when there were landlines.

There are calls they must always pick up (parents, grandparents) and those to never pick up ("scam likely"). They need to understand the art of ignoring a call from a number not in their contacts, letting it go to voice mail, and then listening to the voicemail.

Tweens need to be OK with sharing their phone location with you not (only) so that you can track them but also because they will misplace their phone more often than they think, usually in the couch cushions.

And tweens-into-teens need to ride the social media bell curve. Create a social media contract, but don't assume your kid will get on social media and stay obsessed. It's 2023, and from what I can tell, kids explore it and then get bored. At this point, I know as many teens who love Tik Tok as those who refuse to look at it. Not all social media is for everyone, and your tween (if they lie about the year they were born and join a social media app before age 13) will swim around in those waters to see if they like it.

Scrolling on Discord, however, is something they will all adopt and you will never understand.

2. How to Maintain Friendships

Kids see their friends in class almost daily throughout elementary school, but scheduling playdates and a kid's extracurricular life is largely up to parents. That starts to change in middle school. In fifth and sixth grade, you may still be in touch with other parents about sleepovers and get-togethers, but by eighth grade and beyond, the kids are doing the planning. "Do you think I can sleep over at Jessa's?" becomes "There's a sleepover at Jessa's," and you're chauffeur but no longer chief arranger.

This also means some old friendships die away. Without you making the plans, there will be whole families you barely see anymore. But new relationships of your child's own choosing will pop up. Your child will (hopefully) gradually learn how not to get monopolized by a single friend but how to have a close best friend or two. It's a little fraught, but that's why middle school is middle school. Your job is to listen and support.

Related: Middle school is when a lot of kids drop a sport or adopt a sport, stop dancing or start dancing, give up the piano or take up the guitar. They'll game with kids you don't know and who they have perhaps only met virtually. It's exciting to see them solidify what they like and don't like, and new friendships will emerge from new passions. Try not to let it freak you out! You've given them a solid foundation, and now they are going to grow into bigger people.

3. How to Forage for Food

All their life, you have served your kid meals, packed lunch or arranged a school lunch, and served snacks. Well, the rumors are true: As the teen years approach, your kid will begin to eat more than you will ever want to chop, cook, serve, or anything else.

Get used to stocking the pantry with snacks like pretzels and cereal, and leaving out copious amounts of fruit. Through the tween years, your kid needs to learn to open the fridge and not just stare in it but actively wash and eat an apple, pour a bowl of cereal and milk at 4 pm, and make a grilled cheese without sending smoke through the house.

Why You’ll Thank Yourself Later

If your child can start their freshman year of high school understanding how to use and not lose their smartphone, how to maintain a few reliable friendships, and how to feed themself both before and after eating an entire dinner (that's a real thing), the high school years can be more about focusing on homework.

Ha! In our dream world. In reality, high school will be about some homework, drama with crushes, long periods of stony silence, raging hormones that cause toddler-like tantrums, explorations of identity, and all kinds of other big issues. You'll be glad they know how to pick up a phone call.