Question of the Day: Middle School Worries
Today’s question is from a mom worried about her son starting middle school.
“My son is starting middle school and I worry about all the things he’s going to be exposed to. Vaping, drugs, girls, social media, bullies, online porn, you name it, I worry about it.
He is such a happy, sweet boy and I don’t want his peers to ruin his innocence. Part of me thinks I should talk to him about some of the things he’ll be exposed to. But the other part of me thinks I should keep quiet and let it unfold as he experiences it.
How can I prepare him for the big, bad world of middle school without scaring him or giving him more information than he is ready to handle?” Catalina
Parent Education Answer:
I think there are many parents who share the same middle school worries and apprehension. I heard this a lot from the parents who came to my classes on “How to Talk to Kids about Sex”.
They wanted to be the ones to tell their kids about how babies are made but they get nervous about taking away their innocence. Rather than saying the wrong thing or giving too much information, they end up saying nothing at all.
In a way, your instincts are correct in not talking to him from your worrying energy. Emotions are contagious and you telling him about your fears and all the middle school worries could do one of two things:
– Scare him. He might mirror you and become equally worried and stressed.
– Reject you. Kids don’t like the energy of worry. He may disregard your helpful information and not want to listen to you, be around you, or confide in you later, if he thinks it will worry you.
I believe knowledge is power. This could be a great opportunity to inform him of things he will be encounter. But keep in mind that only if you are in a calm confident energy.
Benefits of Information
When parents inform their kids about vaping, sex, drugs, etc. before they are exposed to it, there are many benefits:
- Kids learn they can talk to their parents about anything that comes up.
- When your middle schooler hears something taboo, he doesn’t need to rely on peers or youtube to answer questions because they already received information at home.
- Talking about personal, important things builds trust and brings you closer.
- Middle schoolers are surrounded by peers willing to give their opinions and judgments easily. When they also have the voice of their parent in their head, it helps them make an informed decision.
- Kids tend to rise to our expectations. If we expect them to do drugs and get bad grades, they probably will. If we expect them to encounter such, but not partake in unhealthy activities, they probably will do that.
Format of Discussion
Think about this format when talking to your kid about difficult subjects: information, consequences, opinions, choice.
Let’s take online porn as an example.
Information: Porn is short for pornography. It refers to visual materials (mostly digital these days) containing explicit display of sexual organs and/or activity intended to stimulate erotic feelings (as opposed to aesthetic or emotional). Showing pornography to children is considered illegal and obscene.
Consequences: Some people experience it as harmless and healthy. Others experience it as addictive, exploitative and damaging to relationships.
Opinions: Your Dad and I don’t want you watching it because it’s going to give you an unrealistic picture of what sex is like in a real relationship. When you are in a real relationship someday, we want you to experience the best of it. This includes emotional intimacy, companionship, friendship and love, not just the physical aspects of sex.
Choice: We realize we can’t control what you view on the internet but we hope you choose will things that uplift your spirit and not watch things you feel you should hide. We also want you to know, you can come to us if you ever have concerns or you encounter something that feels weird or icky online.
Life Coaching Answer: Handling Middle School Worries
What gets in our way from being this calm confident parent discussing these middle school worries and informing our child of unhealthy risks of middle school? FEAR.
Fear of what could happen, fear of letting go, fear of how other kids will behave, fear of losing the child you have known, fear of him getting hurt, fear of watching our baby suffer, fear of not being able to help him solve his problems, fear dressed up in multiple outfits.
When we feel fear in the absence of immediate threat, we struggle because there is no productive action step to take.
It helps to know that fear is an instinct to keep us (and our loved ones) out of harm’s way. We are hiking, we see a snake ready to strike, we freeze. Some crazy person running towards us yelling, we run away.
Hence, our brain’s fear response is brilliantly designed to keep us safe, except for when there is no clear reason for our fear.
When we feel fear, yet everything around us appears safe, we go into our heads and try to figure out why we are scared. We look for an explanation for our fears: school shootings, bad guys, drugs.
The news will give us plenty of logical reasons why we have this fear. It makes our worries seem valid and important.
Fears and Worries
Worry pretends to be helpful. It makes us feel like we are DOING something productive but we aren’t. All we are doing is making it harder to help our children navigate a fear-filled culture with confidence and ease.
In order to prepare your child for some of the negative things he might be exposed to in middle school, you’ll want to release these middle school worries and process the fear.
Fear is just an emotion. It is energy in motion and it shows up as a vibration in the body.
Close your eyes, take a deep breath and notice what fear feels like and where in your body you feel it. The more you stay with this feeling, without having the need to run away from it, the easier it will move through you.
Our brain thinks we’re going to die but if you look around you, and all is well in this moment, it’s safe to process this feeling so that you can return to a state of calm.
From the sound of things, it looks like your son is healthy, happy and safe. He is going to school in one of the safest countries in the world, in one of the safest times in history. He’ll be with other kids who have been raised in a safe environment, having all their basic needs met.
Worrying gives you the illusion of safety, but it really doesn’t help.
Once you’ve allowed yourself to feel the feeling of fear without reacting to it, you’ll notice you feel calmer.
This is when you want to engage the brain and ask, “What do I need to think and believe in order to talk to my middle schooler calmly?”
“I want him to have knowledge so he can make his own decisions.”
“This is good information to know” might be a helpful thought.
“I trust him to make good choices.”
“I’m earning my good parenting sticker today”
“I want to be the kind of mom who can handle tough subjects.”
Once you are feeling calm and ready to give your child “Information, Consequence, Opinion, Choice”, you may need some additional resources.
Middle school is a great time to shift from being the person with all the answers, to learning things together with your child. Which is handy because a lot of us don’t know about the dangers of vaping, social media, or today’s potent marijuana options.
Marlene Mahurin from Nevada County’s Tobacco Use Prevention and Education program, recommended a great video to watch with your kids. I will post a few of my favorites but I encourage you to look through Google on your own. Find a few to watch that you think will resonate with your child’s personality. Just be mindful of who is publishing the video.
Common Sense Media has GREAT videos and is a resource you should know about from school shootings to sexting https://www.commonsensemedia.org/
The Nevada County TUPE video on vaping http://nevco.org/programs-services/tupe/
Sex Education (for 9-12 year olds) http://TimeforTheTalk.com
Gender Fluidity https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=udI-Go8KK2Q&feature=youtu.be
Sex Education (for parents and high schoolers) https://youtu.be/L0jQz6jqQS0
How to ADHD https://howtoadhd.com/videos/
Today’s Supermom Kryptonite – Your media diet.
Just like the food we eat impacts us, even if we don’t notice it immediately, the media we take in affects us, too.
If your media diet consists of Fox News, Criminal Minds and CSI, it’s no wonder you feel a lot of fear. If your media diet consists of Queer Eye, romance novels, this podcast and video chatting with friends, you probably feel a lot of peace. In order to stop worrying, try changing your media diet.
I remember going to bed one night and noticing I felt gross. It felt like I had just eaten a bunch of junk food but I hadn’t. I realized the “junk food feeling” was because I just watched 20 minutes of “Housewives of Whatever County” before I went to bed.
This show might be just what you need at the end of the day to lift your spirits. That was what I thought, but it wasn’t healthy for me.
Especially before bed, I have to be very careful about what I take into my brain.
It’s amazing how easy it is to keep up with current events without ever watching a single newscast. Thus, I limit my social media exposure and seek media that uplifts me. That way, I can maintain peaceful energy for my clients, and kids, to come home to.
Supermom Powerboost – Allowing your kid to experience negative emotion
- It is common in today’s perfectionistic parenting culture to believe that it’s our job to protect our children from having any negative emotion ever. We genuinely want our children to be happy and successful, every second of every day, forever. First, because this is what we think a good mom would want. Second because we don’t know what to do with ourselves when they have a negative emotion.
When we understand that allowing children to “feel all the feels” is IMPORTANT and NECESSARY, then we focus on what we want to feel WHILE they are feeling sad, disappointed, angry or scared. You can:
- allow your child to feel a feeling without taking it on as your own.
- feel proud of yourself for letting your child have a negative experience.
- feel satisfied knowing that this negative experience is teaching him lessons he could never learn on his own.
Trying to ensure that your child only has positive experiences and emotions is exhausting. In contrast, allowing your child to experience negative emotions, (without making it mean anything has gone wrong), will free you and boost your energy.
Quote of the Day:
“Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.” Leo Buscaglia