The ABCs of Middle School Boys: ‘A’ is for Acceptance

This is part 1 of a three-part series.

So you’re the parent of a middle school boy and you’re wondering where your sweet, well-mannered, and bright-eyed child went. You may feel as though you’ve lost control—that your regular parenting techniques are no longer working and you can’t seem to connect with your child.

Not only are you just like millions of other parents, but you’re also on the frontlines of completely typical and developmentally healthy behavior. Not buying it? Fessenden’s School Psychologist Dr. Jonathan Goldberg has information that will, at the very least, assure you that everything you’re experiencing is normal.

Freud actually defined the middle school years as “storm and stress,” which seems fitting in light of the fact that they’re often marked by periods of awkwardness and discomfort, paired with fits of joy and exuberance. In his own spin on these years, Dr. Goldberg offers comfort and wisdom in the form of an acronym: the “ABCs” of Middle School boys. The three core constructs of middle school years, Dr. Goldberg attests, are acceptance, belonging, and change. This week we’ll delve into the multiple ways acceptance begins to appear and manifest during this time in an adolescent boy’s life.

There are two types of acceptance necessary for surviving the middle school years, according to Dr. Jonathan Goldberg. And it’s not necessarily about a child’s desire to be accepted by peers—though that does come into play. The first form of acceptance is that parents must simply accept their middle school boys and everything they’re going through, which—let’s face it—is not always easy to do at this age. The second form of acceptance is letting go.

Accepting Your Boys

Boys in middle school are generally uncomfortable. As a coping mechanism they often act out their discomfort in their closest social relationships—with parents and siblings. Dr. Goldberg says, “They will push you, they will test you. It’s part of their development, and it’s healthy! But it doesn’t always feel good, and it may cause you to feel more distant.”

If you look back on your middle school years, you probably remember being physically, emotionally, and socially awkward. Middle school boys are not impervious to these feelings. What they need—in order to discover a sense of self, develop healthy social-emotional habits, and to gain confidence and strength—is acceptance from you no matter how much they push you away. It is also important to set and reinforce boundaries during this time so boys can better understand and respect them.

A 21st century way to look at the growth and development that occurs during these years is to imagine adolescent boys as “constantly downloading” information from their environments. Most of this information comes from their primary caregivers: families, educators, and peers. Dr. Goldberg assures parents that “what you tell them, whether they seem like they are respecting it or not, is sinking in. Your acceptance of them, and your respect of the struggles they are going through, is very important. This will have a tremendous benefit later in life, in terms of their feelings of stability and appreciation of themselves.”

Let It Go

It’s not just an award-winning Disney song from the movie “Frozen.” It’s advice that will help any parent of a middle school boy. According to Dr. Goldberg it’s plain and simple. You have to let go and loosen your grip. He explains, “Boys are going to push you away whether you like it or not, and you’re going to create conflict if you’re not willing to let go as they do so. You will create tension, and it could make for an uncomfortable home environment.” Boys need to push you away as they develop their own sense of independence and gain confidence. It’s an important facet of the middle school experience.

Another metaphor Dr. Goldberg shares with parents of middle school boys is teaching a child to ride a bike. Initially you want your child to use training wheels to prevent them from toppling over. But you also want them to develop a sense of balance. Over time, your child becomes stronger, more independent, and he’s ready for the wheels to come off. Your goal as a parent is no longer to try to control them, or point them in the right direction. Instead, Dr. Goldberg shares, “they need to develop a sense of self, so your job is to ride beside them. You’re going to be aware of where they’re going and make sure that they don’t make any wrong turns, but you’re not going to keep holding onto the back seat. You’re going to let it go, and let them steer themselves.”

It’s a hard thing to do, but it is the best thing you can do to ensure that your child comes out of his middle school years with increased confidence, a sense of self, and stronger executive functioning skills.

You tell us.

What trials and tribulations have you experienced as a parent of a middle school boy? Have you experienced successes—or failures—when it comes to acceptance and letting go?

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