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Middle Schoolers: Let Them Push…But Don’t Let Go

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Oriol Vidal

Give older middle schoolers what they need, not necessarily what they think they want.

My son had disappeared. He just up and left, right around seventh grade. And in his place, he left this … stranger. Oh, he still looked like my boy. But he certainly wasn’t the same kid I’d read “The Chronicles of Narnia” to or watched cartoons with. This interloper suddenly wanted an electric guitar and a skateboard — items that might not sound alarming but felt like a harbinger for teenage rebellion. Horrors.

Growing pains

Many kids have been swiped during the middle school years. Our cherished little child becomes someone else — someone we often don’t recognize or, frankly, like very much. Welcome to the adolescent years, childhood’s least funny practical joke. It’s hard on kids and on dads. And yet this time is critical for growth.

Kids are getting a better sense of who they are and, more importantly, who they want to be. It can feel like they’re pushing away from you and from everything you hold dear. So what, as dads, are we supposed to do?

Let them push. A little.

From boy to man

I didn’t particularly want my son to start skateboarding. I worried about his safety, as any dad would. But I bought him a skateboard, watched him learn and saw him get pretty good . . . before he gave it up for snowboarding. And then rock climbing.

When he was moody, I tried to remember just how moody I had been during adolescence — and how my parents extended a little extra grace and humor.

Instead of telling my son to do something “because I said so,” I tried to show him why it was important — for him and for those around him. I became less of a dictator and more of a knowledgeable guide.

As my boy pushed, I resisted the urge to hold tighter. I tried to make myself loosen my grip. Sure, I still guided him and corrected him. But my son’s adolescence was not just about his changing from a boy to a man; it was also my changing what I looked like as a father — becoming the dad he really needed during these transitional years. 

Paul Asay has written for Plugged In since 2007. He has also written several books, including Burning Bush 2.0.

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