If there is one truism in my world, it’s people who regard working with Middle School-aged students as a sort of unmitigated horror. In fact, when I first accepted my job in the middle school, one of my colleagues told me, ‘I’d rather be homeless than teach middle school.” “Well, okay,” I thought, “better me than you.” One of the reasons I made the decision to give working in a middle school a try is that children this age can always use an extra ally; someone who believes in them and can help both middle schoolers and their parents to navigate the churning waters of adolescence. They can be a challenge; kids often are. But spending time with them is rewarding in equal measure.
In that capacity, I’ve had plenty of conversations with parents about problems big and small. I’ve learned anew a concept I think that I’ve always known: that when it’s your child, the problem is always big. Whether it’s a 6 year old who can’t tie her shoes or a 15 year old making poor decisions, when you are the parent of a struggling or unhappy child, the problem looms large and overwhelming. That doesn’t change when a child is middle school aged.
Parents in these circumstances are not always rational. They are anxious and afraid; defensive and angry; sometimes looking for someone to blame. My job then is to help everyone maintain perspective and identify active solutions. Sometimes I want to point out that everyone’s child struggles, that such difficulties are an inevitable part of growing up. But misery doesn’t always love company and it doesn’t always ease your own troubles to know that they are neither unique nor unexpected.