Back Talk And Eye Rolling

Riding the emotional roller-coaster of life with a middle school child. Contributed by the Parenting Center

When we talk about the middle school years, it’s important to try to remember what those years are like. Here are just a few of the frustrations middle-schoolers live with:

They’re dying for independence, but are told what to do by parents, teachers, and older siblings; they’re the target of many advertising campaigns that make them want lots of things; they worry about their appearance while their bodies are changing dramatically; they long for peer acceptance while some peers make life miserable for them; they worry about doing well in school as their workload and responsibilities increase; they’re on the brink of adulthood while also struggling to control their childlike impulses; they are eager to voice their opinions, but still have difficulty formulating coherent arguments; and they maintain a hectic schedule—between school, sports, social events, and extracurricular activities—at a time when their physical development demands they sleep more.

This has never been an easy time for children and parents. In 400 B.C., Socrates supposedly said, “Young people love luxury; they show disrespect for old people and love silly talk in place of exercise. They no longer stand up when older people enter the room; they contradict their parents, talk constantly in front of company, gobble their food and tyrannize their teachers.” In 2400 years, adolescence hasn’t changed. But the world in which the adolescent lives has. It has become a more dangerous and stressful place for young people. They are exposed to violence, drugs, and sexuality on TV, movies, the Internet, and in their lives.

Unfortunately, we can’t hover over our adolescents the way we did when they were toddlers learning to climb the monkey bars. They are on their own, going to the movies, friend’s houses, the mall. They have to learn from the consequences of their actions; we just hope the consequences are not too severe.

Middle schoolers are changing every day. It’s the unpredictability that keeps us parents  on our toes. We need to maintain a positive and optimistic view of our children to manage the day to day intensities. They are beginning to develop sophisticated reasoning powers, able to look for deeper meaning. But they are not yet thinking like an adult; they use their emotion centers for decision-making, not the rational, reasoning part of the brain. This change in thinking shows itself in the arguments or discussions that you have with your child.

They are concerned about the outside world and how it affects them. They believe they can make a difference. They are developing their own set of personal values and watching the adult world for discrepancies between what we say and what we do. If you give a lecture about the obscenities in song lyrics, then swear at other drivers, they’ll call you on it or discount your words. If you caution about using drugs, then have a couple of martinis every night, they’ll learn not to take you seriously, but to follow your example.

Here are some things to do to let go a little and show confidence in your child’s growth and independence:







Locate an old photo of yourself when you were the same age your child is now. Look at your expression. Can you recall what you were thinking? How you felt about your appearance? How you hated that shirt your mother made you wear? How that haircut made you look like a geek? Or how you got a pimple on your nose just in time for the picture?

Play some music that was popular when you were in middle-school. Close your eyes and try to remember where you were, what you were doing, and how you felt as you listened. Try to hold onto these memories as you parent. It will give you an appreciation of what it is like to be your child’s age. Your life was not uncomplicated and neither is your child’s. A little empathy can go a long way.

Are you finding yourself overwhelmed by the emotional roller-coaster of living with a middle-schooler? Join other parents at The Parenting Center to develop skills for managing this stage, Back Talk and Eye-Rolling for parents of middleschoolers in July and again in October. Be sure to get on our mailing list or check our website,, for listings of all the classes for parents of children of every age.

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