Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Middle School Mystery

Listen up, mommies and daddies! For years you’ve been perfecting this parenting thing, getting in the groove with cool stuff to do to entertain and hopefully enlighten your offspring. You’ve scoured the magazines and events calendars for ways to occupy their idle time, but not too much because of course you know that idle time is important to their developing creativity and self-sufficiency. You finally feel confident in your role as a wise and nurturing parent.

And then, Ka-Blam! Suddenly they’re adolescents and the rules change. On the positive side, you don’t have to go to any more Disney movies. But on the down side… well, what do you do when they’re too old for the children’s museum and too young to get a job? The middle school mystery has been looming ever larger in our family this year, particularly over school vacations. An eighth-grader and a fifth-grader just don’t want to do kids activities any more – especially the eighth-grader.

Early adolescence is a conundrum, perhaps best summed up in the title of Anthony Wolf’s classic guide to parenting teens, “Get Out of my Life, but First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall?” Community recreation departments and cultural organizations have largely ceded this age group to the schools. But not every child wants to or has the opportunity to be in a club or on a team. Middle schoolers crave their peers’ companionship, but it’s hard to find space for them to connect with each other while still being connected, even if less intensely, with the adults in their lives.

So it’s time to sit back and enjoy exploring this new territory. The middle school years are a wonderful time to watch your children develop as individuals. Sometimes that means just letting them figure out for themselves what to do with their free time.

You still have several years before your kids give you the pink slip as parent-in-chief. But your job will change, and it might not be a bad time to start adapting your repertoire. Time to start taking the kids to PG-13 movies that you want to see; to invite kids into your activities and interests; to reclaim a bit of your own life! They might not want to come along, but that’s OK too: You don’t need to get a sitter anymore.

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