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Welcome to the Middle School Zone

Your child is changing. Is your parenting?

“I’d love to help chaperone your field trip, Mrs. Acuña, but I’ve been forbidden to go,” Colin’s mom said sadly. “Apparently my son has reached the age where it’s embarrassing to have your mom around. Guess I’ll go hang out with my second-grader while he still loves me.”

Have you been caught off guard by changes in your child that mark the transition from childhood into early adolescence? You thought you had more time, but suddenly your 10- or 11-year-old is less like the child you know and more like someone you don’t even recognize. Welcome to the middle school zone — even if your child isn’t actually in middle school yet.

Most parents don’t know what’s “normal” at this stage. A middle schooler may act like a young adult one minute, and then revert to childish behaviors the next. Middle schoolers want to be understood, but they don’t have any better idea than their parents about what’s going on with their bodies, emotions or much else in this new stage of their lives.

These are critical and often challenging years; kids who have strong relationships with their parents during early adolescence have an easier time maintaining that connection during the high school years, when it’s more difficult to establish trust and rapport. Here are some practical ways to nurture a strong, positive relationship with your middle schooler:

Rethink Authority

“My parents want to control everything about my life. They tell me what to wear and what to eat and when to go to bed. Why can’t I make any of my own decisions?”

From the time our kids are born, we manage virtually everything for them. Bedtimes, menus, wardrobe — we make all these decisions. But once children reach 10 or 11 years old, this is no longer acceptable to them, leading to power struggles.

The fact that your children need you will not change. But how they need you constantly changes, especially during their journey from childhood to young adulthood. Early adolescence may be the time to transition from your role as “manager” to the role of “consultant.” You’re still in charge, but how you communicate your authority may make all the difference in how much cooperation you receive. Instead of delivering commands or ultimatums, try asking questions and making gentle suggestions. For example, “You’re not wearing that to school!” will likely lead to a battle. Instead, try, “You haven’t worn that in a while, have you? Doesn’t fit quite the way it used to. Go look in the mirror, and let’s talk about it.” Then you might ease sideways into a discussion about the appropriateness of what your child is wearing, especially if it’s gotten too tight or small.

Sometimes a consultant has to let the client make bad choices and live with the consequences. If it’s not a major issue of safety or morality, consider how much control you really need to hang onto. Try just listening and making a suggestion, and then step back to let your “client” make the final decision.

Acknowledge Their Fears

All the girls loved Mr. D., the basketball coach, and enjoyed signing a card to give to him at the end of the year. But when the question came up of who would present the card to him in front of the team, there were no volunteers. “I can’t get up in front of everybody,” one girl said. “What if I say something stupid?”

We asked middle schoolers to list their top fears. At first, they rattled off a standard list including parents dying, natural disasters, kidnappings and school shootings. But as we dug deeper, another list emerged, made up of fears that middle schoolers often don’t share with adults — or even each other — because they think they’re alone in feeling that way. At the top of that list? Looking stupid.

For middle schoolers, the fear of looking foolish — especially when they run the risk of being ridiculed by peers and not welcomed into the crowd — is one of the scariest things of all. They know that terrorist attacks and school shootings are rare, but not fitting in? That could happen to them tomorrow in the lunchroom!

What can you do about the fact that your middle schooler is more scared of being a social misfit than of facing a terrorist attack? First, don’t downplay their fear; it really is a paralyzing force in middle school. Keep in mind that middle schoolers want to be heard and understood, and use genuine empathy to acknowledge that these years can be difficult for everyone, but things will get better. Because middle schoolers suffer from extreme self-consciousness, even a small lapse in judgment can cause them embarrassment. To have a parent broadcasting that to anyone will leave a middle schooler writhing in agony or seething in anger. Just as we trust spouses and friends to keep confidences and not embarrass us, middle schoolers need to trust their parents will do the same.

And while reminding them how valuable they are may not change how they feel, consistently demonstrating the unconditional love that you — and God — have for them positively impacts how they see themselves.

Step Inside “the Bubble”

“I want to pray for my grandma; she’s having surgery.”

“When, and what for?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Will she stay in the hospital?”

“I have no idea.”

“How do you know she’s having surgery?”

“My mom said I’d have to ride home with my friend on the day of the surgery.”

It’s typical for middle schoolers to hear only the part of the conversation that applies to them. We call this “the Bubble,” and our advice to parents is to get used to it because it’s not going away any time soon. The Bubble is a survival technique that gives middle schoolers time and space to deal with . . . well, themselves.

Their physical changes are what we can see. But big changes are happening inside, too. Emotionally, middle schoolers feel like they have little control over mood swings. Intellectually, they’re thinking all sorts of new thoughts about who they are and where they fit into the big picture. Spiritually, they’re beginning to question some of what they used to take for granted. Between studying themselves in the mirror and reflecting on all that’s going on inside their hearts and heads, is it any wonder they barely notice the rest of us?

So are you just supposed to let them get away with going off into their own private world and ignoring the rest of us? Not completely. And not forever. But right now it’s their main method of self-protection. You can’t live inside your child’s Bubble — it’s strictly single-occupancy — but you should definitely be a regular visitor. Your child still needs you, in some ways more than ever.

Keep gently poking your head into the Bubble. Don’t go in to yell at your son about the mess he left behind after lunch. Instead, invite him to join you in the kitchen and see if he can figure out why you’re there. He’ll probably be surprised to see the open cupboard door, the open peanut butter jar and the open bread wrapper. Chances are good that once he does see them, he’ll clean them up without further prompting. When you give your daughter important information — “Dad will pick you up at 1 for an orthodontist appointment. Don’t forget your homework assignment.” — have her repeat it back to you. That way, you’ll know your words penetrated her Bubble. When she inconsiderately interrupts your conversation, point it out by saying, “I’m sure you didn’t mean to interrupt the important conversation I’m having.” She’ll probably be surprised to see there’s someone else talking to you!

Like a roller-coaster ride, the middle school years will have periods of turbulence followed by calmer spots. Our suggestion is to hold your middle schooler’s hand during the scary parts, high-five him during the exciting parts and try not to be caught off guard by the twists and turns. Though middle schoolers may act like they don’t want parents around, they are relieved to know we’re close by to be their stabilizers during the ups and downs of adolescence. Eventually, the track will smooth out, and everyone can take a deep breath and say, “Phew! We made it!”


Additional Tips for Parenting Your Middle Schooler

Could your middle schooler use a hygiene reminder?
As kids develop more adult-like bodies, they also develop more adult-like smells. Unfortunately, they don’t always have adult-like hygiene habits. To prevent too much awkwardness or embarrassment, create a code word to discreetly let your middle schooler know when it’s time for an armpit freshening.

Can they wear that?
Check out the school’s dress code for yourself rather than taking your middle schooler’s word for what it says. No parent enjoys spending big bucks on something only to learn that it can’t be worn to school!

Is middle school off to a rocky start?
It’s common for a middle schooler’s self-esteem to take a noticeable dive during the first few weeks of school. This is when your child may especially appreciate encouragement and empathy for what he or she is going through.

How much do grades matter?
Putting a lot of pressure on your middle schooler to get high grades can increase the temptation to use deceptive means to measure up to expectations. Add the strong influence of peer pressure, and even good students may be tempted to cheat. Instead of pressuring middle schoolers to get good grades, help them polish their study skills. This doesn’t mean letting kids get by with not trying or making excuses but rather giving them a chance take more responsibility for their own success and learn what it takes to keep themselves motivated and competent.

What can you do when your child isn’t “clicking” with a teacher?
Instead of resenting a teaching approach that does not play to your child’s learning style, help your child understand and value a variety of methods, preparing your son or daughter to confidently face a world of different personalities.

Should your child sign up for that team (or club or activity)?
At the beginning of the year, new and exciting activities beckon—and some students will be tempted to try them all. Before your middle schooler signs up to participate in a sport or club, get detailed information regarding the time commitment and financial commitment. Unlike elementary school, middle school teams practice almost every day, games involve traveling, and there may be major competitions later in the year that can take up entire weekends.

What helpful boundary should you establish ASAP?
Middle schoolers are often pressured by friends to have boy-girl parties. Making a rule such as “no boy-girl parties until you’re 16” will take the pressure off your middle schooler, and it will head off situations he or she isn’t prepared to handle, like games and activities that involve inappropriate coed interactions.

How can you get your child to study—without nagging?
Instead of nagging her to study, try a more subtle approach: “How should we celebrate when your science test is over?” You’ve planted a seed and allowed her to saunter off and pretend she was planning on studying all along. Mission accomplished, conflict avoided.

Has your middle schooler been asking tough questions about faith?
Middle schoolers are journeying through some intense self-discovery. Their whole world is beginning to shift and resettle, and it’s natural to develop doubts about the faith they’ve previously taken for granted. Wise parents will welcome the questioning as a sign that their children are beginning the process of personalizing their faith. If you don’t feel equipped to answer the tougher questions, seek help and advice from youth pastors, who are specially trained to deal with kids who are searching for answers.

Could this be making your middle schooler irritable?
Sudden growth spurts can cause fatigue. After all, it takes a lot of energy to grow that quickly. When your middle schooler seems grouchy or out of sorts for no reason, look for any recent physical changes. Is he taller? Did you just have to buy her new clothes or shoes because the old ones no longer fit? It could be that all of it’s related to the bad mood (and yawning) you’re seeing. That irritability might just disappear with a well-timed nap.

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Cover image of the book "Unexpected Choice: An Abortion Doctor’s Journey to Pro-Life"

Unexpected Choice: An Abortion Doctor’s Journey to Pro-Life

Unexpected Choice is told from the perspective of a doctor who actually performed abortions through Planned Parenthood. The book chronicles her journey from being a pro-choice physician to someone speaking on behalf of the pro-life movement.

Giving up Sugar, Tasting God's Goodness

As a latchkey kid, Wendy Speake turned to sugar for comfort. Every Friday, she would pedal to the candy show and use her allowance to fill her bag with candy. And one day, when she was older and a mom of three young boys, she came to realize that she was still “pedaling” away from her stress and using sugar as comfort, instead of turning to Jesus. She was joyless, worn out, tired, and in need of a change. In this interview, Wendy will challenge Christians to take 40 days to focus on fasting from something they turn to instead of Jesus for comfort. She invited people to break free from a dependence on sugar and taste the goodness of God.

Author Wendy Speake smiling as she holds up her book "The 40-Day Social Media Fast"

Mrs. Wendy Speake

With a background in Hollywood as a trained actress, Wendy Speake ministers to women as a bible teacher by applying the power of drama, poetry and comedy to the study of Scripture and real-life application of biblical truths. She has co-authored two books with Amber Lia titled Triggers: Exchanging Parents’ Angry Reactions for Gentle Biblical Responses and their latest, Parenting Scripts: When What You’re Saying Isn’t Working, Say Something New. Wendy is also the co-author (with Kelli Stuart) of Life Creative: Inspiration for Today’s Renaissance Mom.

Cover image of the book "The 40-Day Sugar Fast"

The 40-Day Sugar Fast: Where Physical Detox Meets Spiritual Transformation

Welcome to the 40-Day Sugar Fast, a fast that begins with us giving Jesus our sugar and ends with Jesus giving us himself–the only thing that can ever truly satisfy our soul’s deep hunger. On this 40-day journey you’ll learn how to stop fixating on food and other things you use to fill the voids in life and instead fix your eyes on Christ. Anyone who runs to sugar for comfort or a reward, who eats mindlessly or out of boredom, who feels physically and spiritually lethargic, or who struggles with self-control will discover here not only freedom from their cravings but an entirely new appetite for the good things God has for us.

Understanding the Root of Your Child's Misbehavior - Part 1

Often, children act out because they are used to getting attention through bad behavior. Dr. Kevin Leman offers advice to help parents transform their child’s behavior. He discusses the benefits of allowing your kids to learn from real-life consequences and describes the importance of understanding your child’s temperament based on his birth order.

Dr. Kevin Leman

Dr. Kevin Leman

Dr. Kevin Leman is an internationally known family psychologist and an award-winning, New York Times best-selling author. He is also a popular public speaker and media personality who has made countless guest appearances on numerous radio and TV programs. Dr. Leman has written more than 50 books including The Birth Order BookHave a New Kid by Friday and Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours.

Bundle of Why Your Kids Misbehave

Why Your Kids Misbehave and What to Do about It

Tantrums. Talking back. Throwing toys or food. Meltdowns. Slamming doors. Kids know just how to push your buttons. You’ve tried all sorts of methods, but nothing seems to work. In this book, Dr. Kevin Leman reveals exactly why kids misbehave and how you can turn that behavior around with practical, no-nonsense strategies that really work . . . and are a long-term win for both of you.

Understanding the Root of Your Child's Misbehavior - Part 2

Often, children act out because they are used to getting attention through bad behavior. Dr. Kevin Leman offers advice to help parents transform their child’s behavior. He discusses the benefits of allowing your kids to learn from real-life consequences and describes the importance of understanding your child’s temperament based on his birth order.

Dr. Kevin Leman

Dr. Kevin Leman

Dr. Kevin Leman is an internationally known family psychologist and an award-winning, New York Times best-selling author. He is also a popular public speaker and media personality who has made countless guest appearances on numerous radio and TV programs. Dr. Leman has written more than 50 books including The Birth Order BookHave a New Kid by Friday and Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours.

Bundle of Why Your Kids Misbehave

Why Your Kids Misbehave and What to Do about It

Tantrums. Talking back. Throwing toys or food. Meltdowns. Slamming doors. Kids know just how to push your buttons. You’ve tried all sorts of methods, but nothing seems to work. In this book, Dr. Kevin Leman reveals exactly why kids misbehave and how you can turn that behavior around with practical, no-nonsense strategies that really work . . . and are a long-term win for both of you.

Loving Your Spouse Through the Seasons of Marriage - Part 2

Debra Fileta has identified the four seasons of marriage that correspond with our natural seasons – spring (new life and new love), summer (things get hot!), fall (showing our true colors), and winter (long days ahead). In this interview, she will help couples better understand the four seasons of healthy relationships, what to expect during each one, and how to carefully navigate them for a stronger marriage.

Author Debra Fileta in the Focus on the Family broadcast studio

Debra Fileta

Debra Fileta is a licensed professional counselor specializing in relationship and marital issues. She is also a public speaker and the author of multiple books, including Married SexChoosing Marriage: Why It Has to Start With We > Me, Love in Every Season, and Are You Really OK: Getting Real About Who You Are, How You’re Doing, and Why It Matters. Debra’s popular relationship advice blog, TrueLoveDates.com, and her Love + Relationships podcast reach millions of people each year offering guidance on topics including love, sex, and marriage.

Love in Every Season: Understanding the Four Stages of a Healthy Relationship

Every relationship goes through four life-changing seasons: Spring. Summer. Fall. Winter. Each season plays an important role in taking your relationship to the next level. And depending on how you navigate each season, your relationship will either flourish and grow, or it will slowly die. Whether you’re single, dating, engaged or married, join licensed professional counselor and relationship expert, Debra Fileta as she takes you on an eye-opening psychological and spiritual journey through the four seasons that she has observed in every healthy relationship.

Reconciling Faith and Science in a Medical Crisis

Dr. Lee Warren is a neurosurgeon who has faced many heavy challenges in his life – from serving in the Iraq War to removing deadly brain tumors to experiencing the loss of a teenage son. He’ll share about his difficult quest to find answers to some of life’s toughest questions, while holding onto his faith in God and the sure hope of heaven

Headshot of Focus on the Family broadcast guest Dr. W. Lee Warren

Dr. Lee Warren

W. Lee Warren, M.D., is a brain surgeon , inventor, Iraq War veteran, and author of I’ve Seen the End of You: A Neurosurgeon’s Look at Faith, Doubt, and the Things We Think We Know, winner of the Christian Book Award®. His previous book, No Place to Hide, was included on the 2015 U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff’s Recommended Reading List. Dr. Warren has appeared on The 700 Club and the CBS Evening News, and his writings have been featured in Guideposts magazine. His Dr. Lee Warren Podcast, which is heard in more than 60 countries, helps listeners use the power of neuroscience, faith, and common sense to change their lives.

Cover image of Dr. Lee Warren's book "I've Seen the End of You"

I've Seen the End of You: A Neurosurgeon's Look at Faith, Doubt, and the Things We Think We Know

This gripping inspirational memoir grapples with the tension between faith and science—and between death and hope—as a seasoned neurosurgeon faces insurmountable odds and grief both in the office and at home.

Praying Scripture Over Your Child’s Life - Part 1

Jodie Berndt loves to pray for her children. She’s been doing that for the past thirty years. Now she helps other parents to talk to God, asking for the salvation of their kids, and for wisdom, self-discipline, purpose, a future and much more. She offers fun and practical encouragement that moms and dads can put to work immediately in their daily lives as they prepare their children for a life in Christ.

Headshot of Focus on the Family broadcast guest Jodie Berndt

Jodie Berndt

Jodie Berndt is a public speaker, a Bible teacher, and the the author of 10 books. Find out more about Jodie and get some free resources (including printable prayer cards and calendars) at her website, jodieberndt.com.

Cover image of Jodie Berndt's book "Praying the Scriptures for Your Children"

Praying the Scriptures Over Your Children

You will discover how using the Bible to shape your desires and requests opens the door to God’s provision—and frees us from things like worry and fear in our parenting! This expanded edition of the bestseller features updated content on issues like technology and identity, and comes with new material designed to invite children into the family prayer circle. Purchase now and receive 10% off your product.

Mothers and Sons: Being a Godly Influence - Part 1

Rhonda Stoppe describes her early motherhood challenges of raising a son, which was intimidating to her. She found help through group of older women mentors. She urges moms to see their role as ministry in shaping sons to be good and godly men. Rhonda outlines several practical suggestions to moms about spiritual training, how to communicate with boys, and supporting the father-son relationship as a wife.

Headshot of Rhonda Stoppe

Rhonda Stoppe

Drawing upon 35 years of experience as a mentor, pastor’s wife, and homeschool mom, Rhonda Stoppe offers encouragement and guidance to women as an author and public speaker. She is popularly known as the “No Regrets Woman,” as she is especially passionate about helping women live life without regrets. Rhonda’s books include Moms Raising Sons to Be MenReal Life Romance, and The Marriage Mentor, which she co-authored with her husband, Steve.

Cover image of Rhonda Stoppe's book "Moms Raising Sons to be Men"

Moms Raising Sons to Be Men

Mothers of boys have the special calling to shape future men of God. Popular speaker Rhonda Stoppe, mom to two sons, knows this opportunity is a challenge, a joy, and probably the most important work of a woman’s life. Drawing from years of experience, this inspirational resource will revive the faithfulness and fortitude a woman needs to partner with God as they shape the character and heart of a future godly man.

Identifying Triggers in Your Marriage Part 1

They were both convinced they had married the wrong person. From almost the very beginning of their marriage, Amber and Guy Lia experienced various tensions and personality clashes related to house cleaning, backseat driving, workaholism, and intimacy. In this two-day Focus on the Family broadcast, Amber and Guy discuss how they bravely faced the triggers head-on, and committed to working on their own relationships with Jesus. As you listen to the Lia’s story, you’ll feel hope that you, too, can see real marriage transformation!

Headshot of Guy and Amber Lia

Mr. and Mrs. Guy and Amber Lia and Mrs. Jean Daly

Amber Lia is a work-at-home mom, blogger, public speaker, and co-author of two best-selling books. Her husband, Guy, is a former TV, feature film, and VFX development and production executive who has worked on popular TV shows and films. Guy and Amber own Storehouse Media Group, a faith- and family-friendly TV and film production company based in Los Angeles,

Cover image of the book "Marriage Triggers" by Guy and Amber Lia

Marriage Triggers: How You and Your Spouse Can Exchange Angry Reactions for Gentle Biblical Responses

A husband-wife team offers practical advice for married couples to end the cycle of reactionary arguments by examining the most common issues that trigger disagreements and apply God’s Word to radically transform relationships.

What to Do When You're Not Okay - Part 1

Life can be pretty stressful. Between work, relationships, and other obligations, the pressure builds, and we lose sight of who we are. Counselor Debra Fileta helps you better understand your emotions, assess your mental, physical, and spiritual health, and intentionally pursue a path to wellbeing. In dealing with anxiety, depression, and panic attacks, Debra understands the importance of self-examination as well as the benefits of seeking professional help. She offers biblically-based advice, tools, and encouragement to help you get on a path toward healing and wholeness.

Author Debra Fileta in the Focus on the Family broadcast studio

Mrs. Debra Fileta

Debra Fileta is a licensed professional counselor specializing in relationship and marital issues. She is also a public speaker and the author of multiple books, including Married SexChoosing Marriage: Why It Has to Start With We > Me, Love in Every Season, and Are You Really OK: Getting Real About Who You Are, How You’re Doing, and Why It Matters. Debra’s popular relationship advice blog, TrueLoveDates.com, and her Love + Relationships podcast reach millions of people each year offering guidance on topics including love, sex, and marriage. Debra resides in Pennsylvania with her husband, John, and their four children.

Are You Really Okay?

Are You Really OK: Getting Real About Who You Are

In Are You Really OK? author and licensed counselor Debra Fileta challenges you to get real with who you are and how you’re doing spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically so you can recognize where you need growth and healing.

Navigating a Toxic Culture with Your Daughter - Part 1

As a pediatrician, Dr. Meg Meeker has seen thousands of girls come through her office through the years. They struggle with eating issues, sexual identity, social media…and many other challenges in this toxic culture. Dr. Meeker will encourage parents to invest love and time in their daughters and develop their character to give them the best opportunity for a bright future, all rooted in a spiritual foundation. The discussion also includes healthy feminism vs. toxic feminism

Mrs. Meg Meeker

Dr. Meg Meeker is a pediatrician who is widely recognized as one of the country’s leading authorities on parenting, teens and children’s health. With appearances on numerous nationally syndicated radio and TV programs, her popularity as a an expert on key issues confronting families has created a strong following across America. Her work with countless families over the years served as the inspiration behind her best-selling books which include Strong Fathers, Strong DaughtersStrong Mothers, Strong Sons and The Ten Habits of Happy Mothers

Cover image of Dr. Meg Meeker's book "Raising a Strong Daughter in a Toxic Culture"

Raising a Strong Daughter in a Toxic Culture: 11 Steps to Keep Her Happy, Healthy, and Safe

Meg Meeker has been a pediatrician for more than thirty years, is a mother and a grandmother, and has seen it all. She knows what makes for strong, happy, healthy young women–and what puts our daughters at risk. Combining that experience with her famous common sense, she explains the eleven steps that will help your daughter–whether she’s a toddler or a troubled teen–to achieve her full human potential.

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Newest Release - Episode 1: The Truth About Life!

In this episode, we will tackle tough questions like, “When does life begin?” and “What does the Bible
say about Life?” You’ll discover and understand the stages of pre-born life and that babies are more than
just a clump of cells!

Yes, I Promise to Pray for the Pre-born and Their Moms!

Will you pray for the pre-born and moms that are facing unexpected pregnancies? We will send you a 7-day prayer guide that will help guide you along this journey with us!! You can even choose to receive this great resource by text!

Thank you for committing to pray for the pre-born!

Sign up below for your free seven-day prayer guide. This daily guide will help give direction to your prayers for the pro-life movement. We will be praying with you! 

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