One of the hardest challenges of parenting is raising children who are growing up in completely different circumstances and a new generation from the one in which we were raised. It can be difficult as an adult to navigate changing technology, social media, the educational system, and our changing culture. But helping an adolescent traverse the ever-shifting landscape around us can be even harder.
I asked 100 middle school students to offer up their thoughts in an open letter. I wondered what 13- and 14-year-olds wish adults knew about growing up in today’s society, and what they wish their parents would do differently.
Here are some of the things they had to say:
1. School is a different kind of hard.
Most of us didn’t crack open the Microsoft Office Suite until our older years. However, now middle school students are expected to regularly create and submit a variety of documents, slide presentations, and electronic files. These kids have grown accustomed to a hybrid online/in-person model of education that most of us never took part in, especially at such a young age. The technology has drastically changed, and the academic standards have become more rigorous. To put it plainly, school is arguably harder now than it was when we were in middle school.
Here are some of the things they had to say:
“You learned some of the stuff that we’re learning now in high school or college.”
“I wish parents knew that we have a lot of stress for school and would recognize that.”
“It’s hard socially with the rise of the internet. One day you may have a ‘good’ interaction, and then hours later you could see the same person making fun of you for it on social media.”
“I wish you parents would know that getting good grades is hard.”
“I wish you knew/understood how much homework we have each day and how we feel at stressful times.”
2. Adolescents have a lot of feelings.
As a teacher, I’ve seen this generation of students become more emotionally intelligent than any of their predecessors. Many kids are in therapy and their parents are in therapy, and it is doing everyone a world of good. However, being able to label and discuss emotions doesn’t always make them less overwhelming…especially for an adolescent kid.
My students had a lot to say about the way in which the adults in their lives handle those often hormone-induced teenage emotions:
“If your kid is coming to you with a problem, don’t try to give them advice or make them feel like they are wrong — just validate their feelings.”
“This is really only for girls, but if they are having a meltdown, don’t get mad at them because they probably don’t mean to be upset. They are just overwhelmed, and getting mad never helps.”
“Trying to tell you how we feel about a situation isn’t talking back or being mean/disrespectful, and you should really try to get what we were saying and not just yell at us for ‘talking back.'”
“If something is wrong or we’re stressed/angry, don’t intervene. Allow us to calm down.”
“DO NOT constantly check up on us. We can get irritated and cause a different situation.”
“Social anxiety is a very real thing that a lot of people struggle with, more than you would think.”
“[I wish adults knew] how much criticism everyone has, pointing out good/bad stuff.”
“Just like you don’t tell everything to your kids, your kids don’t tell everything to you, so sometimes they might have stuff going on that you don’t know about.”
3. They are desperate for some freedom and ready for more responsibility.
Middle schoolers can feel stuck in between. They are not in elementary school anymore, but some adults still treat them like they are. They also don’t have the independence of high school students who are licensed drivers, but they are eagerly waiting for that extra freedom and responsibility. Why not find ways to help them feel more grown up now?
Here are their thoughts:
“We are capable of a lot more than you think. Adults should give more freedom to kids sometimes. It depends on the kid, but many of us are capable of things you wouldn’t think of and can handle ourselves well. You should give us opportunities to earn your trust and try to listen to us as much as you can because you might learn a thing or two.”
“You should let your kid play games however much they want if they are getting good grades, doing their chores, being respectful, and if they actually have a life outside of games.”
“This is probably overstated, but middle schoolers and teenagers in general are capable of correct prioritization and decision-making without guidance. This is not to say that you should give free rein to adolescents, but give them some breathing space. Most of them do care what you and others think of them so…when you nag them, you might just be adding to the stress of them already worrying about something.”
“I wish they understood how being the oldest child has a lot of responsibility and way too much pressure to set an example for a younger sibling.”
A few last parting words of wisdom from these middle schoolers:
“Don’t ask us to do chores when we either first wake up or when we first get home from school. We usually just need like 30 minutes to wind down when we get home from a long day or to get ready when we wake up in the morning.”
“You [parents] don’t need to fill every second of the day with something.”
“Don’t use [our] slang–that’s the only important one.”
“Please don’t take our money and say that you will save it for later but you buy groceries with it.”
“Adults expect you to act like an adult but they treat you like kids.”
“We love you. Sorry if we don’t constantly remind you. <3”