Saturday, October 21, 2006

Middle Schoolers Need More Attention

According to an article in Reader's Digest, about half of U.S. moms stay home for their baby's first year. They generally return to a fulltime job outside of the home at some point after that.

By the time the kids are 11, 80% of their moms work outside of the home. But, according to RD, studies show that middle school age, when social lives expand and isssues like sex and drugs crop up, is when children really need attention.

This confirm's what my mother's instinct had already told me: the ages from nine to fourteen are critical in a child's life. This is when children most need their mothers to be at home! This is also when they need to have a close relationship with their fathers.

This is the age when children begin to wrestle with their faith; when they begin the process of making their parents' faith truly their own. They transition slowly from thinking like a child to developing more adult reasoning.

Not only that, but their bodies change. Their peers change.

My adult children tell me that these are the years when peer pressure is the hardest -- even harder than in the later years of high school.

With so much going on at this time, is it any wonder that middle-school-aged children need their parents?

We did not homeschool at the time. I remember picking my children up from school when my son was in fifth grade and my daughter was in sixth. I was amazed at the numbers of boys and girls who trampled the yards surrounding the school. Many of these boys and girls paried off and hung all over each other. I was amazed that the owners of the houses did not say anything. Finally, it dawned on me that in most of those houses, no one was home.

During this period, one of my children's school acquaintances became addicted to diet pills and also became pregnant and a mother at the age of thirteen! This girl and her boyfriend hung out in a home where the mother was away at work.

Another school acquaintance of my daughter's was caught with a gun on campus. God was able to work good through this; it forced my children to become stronger in their convictions and in their faith. But, still, it was sad to see the toll that parental neglect took on children this age.

My husband mentioned casually the other day that if we were starting with a baby in today's climate, we might re-think the homeschooling thing. However, homeschooling parents can't be lax just because their children seem to be safely in the nest. I know a couple where the mother homeschooled the children, yet the children went off track for a bit in those middle years. Plus, the children did not develop some skills needed to cope with adult life.

So, whether our children go to school or stay at home with us during these years, they need us to be wise and involved parents. They need us to listen, listen, listen and to listen some more. They need to be able to tell us their thoughts and fears, without our overreacting (It can be so hard not to overreact out of fear, instead of calmly listening with faith!) They need us to encourage them, to love them, and to believe in what God is doing in their lives. They need us to pray with them and for them. They need for us to provide a safe place for them to bring their friends. Most of all, they need a fun and peaceful home environment.

Now, I'm not talking about smothering our children, here. Children of this age do need to become more independent. If we are going to help them be ready for adult life, we need to start letting out the parental rope just at bit at this age. Within certain bounds, we should let them visit friends' homes and go to certain events. We should gradually allow them to start making more decisions on their own now, while they are still under our roof and we are there to guide them through the process. We need to teach them how to take care of the responsiblities they will have in adult life -- such as handling money, choosing what to wear, etc. Yet, as we do let them grow up a bit, our children should know that we are there for them.

Despite the challenges, these can be delightful years. Preteens and teenagers are fun! I have so many treasured memories of our family during these years. That's another reason why we parents want to give our children the attention they need during these years -- We don't want to miss this marvelous, special time in their development.

According to the article in Reader's Digest, teens graded their parents on how well the adults know what's going on in their kid's lives. Only 35% of moms and 31% of dads got A's.

"We can do a lot better than that," Ellen Galinsky, president of the Familes and Work Institute is quoted as saying. "There's no substittue for parental attention, and consistenty is more important than hours spent. Even a quick chat in the car together can make a difference."

Times in the car were special for us when our children were that age. But, I would challenge Galinsky's thinking that having quick chats in the car is all that is needed. This is where I feel like a voice that is weirdly at odds with what our culture preaches. In my opinion, raising children takes time, time, and more time -- from birth until they marry or otherwise embark on an adult life.

However, if you realize that you and your middle school child haven't been talking lately, a quick chat in the car is a great place to start.:)


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