I know these years are rough. The middle school years can be the toughest on moms. My kids are still little — 2 and 5 years old — but not a day goes by where I don’t give a mental high five to all the moms and dads of 10- to 14-year-olds. Not only do you have to deal with a roller coaster cocktail of hormones coursing through your kid, you’re helping them transition to a more competitive and stressful, yet less personal school environment. You will also probably have to deal with your child’s first experience with actual bullying and peer pressure, harder stuff that goes way beyond the typical primary school antics.
As a teacher of this age group, and of older teens in the past, I’ve got to hand it to you. These years are a rough ride.
However, just because it’s hard, doesn’t mean you have to let your kid be the boss of you, or worse, the President of Your Entire House. I don’t know the magic recipe of raising kids who are model human beings. I have not yet parented a preteen kid, but I and my 7,920 hours of experience with this age group are going to share a few ideas on getting your little one on the right path to being an awesome big person.
1. Let’s stop with the violent video games.
How about you start by not purchasing your 10-year-old the newest Call of Duty game, even if it has a teensy bit less violence and profanity than other versions. In fact, don’t even buy your 20-year-old Call of Duty. Games like Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, and Assassin’s Creed are full of stuff like violence against women, gun violence, graphic and violent imagery, and much much more. And it’s not like your kid is going to be watching passively; he or she is going to be an active participant in the game, making decisions like “Which zombie should I kill next, and which gun should I use to kill him?”
2. Teach your kids that throwing their own garbage away is super cool.
Nothing says, “I have no respect for anyone,” more than leaving an apple and a half-eaten sandwich inside a desk because snowflake couldn’t walk 5 feet to the nearest trash bin. I am always surprised and shocked when, at the start of every school year, I have to give a 20-minute demonstration on which type of garbage goes into recycling and which goes in the regular bin. I also have to remind most kids on a daily basis of these rules.
This shows me that one of three things is happening at home: 1) Your family simply doesn’t produce garbage, so this topic never comes up. In this case, kudos to you! 2) You constantly clean up after your child and have never bothered to teach them how to use a garbage can, or 3) You are incredibly fancy and live in a hotel, where garbage is meaningless because someone else does absolutely everything for you.
3. Teach your kids to be aware of personal space and to be responsible for their bodies.
On a daily basis, I get hit in the back, butt, head, calf, and arm, all usually before lunch and all accidental. As in, I just don’t care enough about you to avoid touching you when I walk by, or I just can’t be bothered to wait for you to move so I’m going to squeeze in between this tiny space near your armpit. This is just weird, and quite frankly, a bit gross. Respecting personal boundaries and being able to interpret nonverbal cues are keys to things like job interviews, first dates, riding an elevator, or approaching a teacher for help.
4. Show them that patience is a part of life.
Shit doesn’t just happen, immediately, because you want it to. You have to wait in line for the washroom, to get on the bus, or for your hot lunch to be delivered. Sometimes, people and things are late. Teach your kids that waiting for things can be virtuous and wonderful and that waiting is just a fact of life.
5. Teach your kids about the importance of boundaries.
This is different from No. 3, which is all that “accidental” touching. I’m talking about students hitting me in the face with a pen, or putting vinegar in my water bottle, or smearing black pen all over my arm, all in the name of “jokes.” Parents, please tell your kids this isn’t funny. Teach them what an actual funny joke is. Start them off with appropriate clips of Kids in the Hall, then work your way up to Inside Amy Schumer.
6. Don’t buy your 10-year-old a smartphone.
It will be all they look at until, well, until they get distracted by something else like alcohol and drugs and raves. A 10-year-old isn’t capable of not being on their phone once its extreme power is revealed. They aren’t capable of saying, “That’s enough for today!” More importantly, there are about a million apps out nowadays that allow your child to not only interact with strangers, but also to possibly (definitely) be exposed to mature content on a regular basis.
Constant vigilance is required on the parent’s part to keep on top of all the new apps out there. There are even apps designed to hide icons on a user’s screen, allowing teens to download and hide the more questionable apps from their parents. How about you avoid this nightmare altogether and just say no thank you when your 10-year-old asks for a phone? Tell them you’ll discuss it again when they turn 14. If they travel alone on public transit, and you would feel better if they had a direct way of contacting you, buy them an ancient flip phone off Ebay. No Wi-Fi, no apps, just texting and old-fashioned phone calls.
Over the years, I have seen multiple examples of people who are getting this whole parenting thing right. They raise kids respectful and kind 10-year-olds who go on to become awesome teenagers.
It is possible to create good humans — it just takes a bit of patience and a splash of NO every once in a while.
This post originally appeared on Medium.
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