Parent Pathways: Stuck in the middle with a soon-to-be middle schooler

05/12/2014 12:00 AM

02/15/2015 11:18 AM

I’ve been dreading the end of fifth grade in a few months.

Middle school.

The likelihood of academic crises, social issues and moodiness.

But Michelle Icard, a Charlotte mom and author of “Middle School Makeover: Improving the Way You and Your Child Experience the Middle School Years,” says I’m going about it all wrong.

Instead of lamenting, I should be celebrating.

“There is so much I love about kids this age,” Icard says. “They are balanced precariously between childhood and adulthood, and you never know who will show up.”

Icard, who has a sixth-grade son and an eighth-grade daughter, has made a career of middle school.

“I used to run my own tutoring business, and I noticed that parents freaked out when their kids got to middle school,” she says. “I wanted to help ease those fears.”

Here are a few chapters of the book I’m planning to peruse: “Everyone has Instagram but Me,” “Goodbye, Birds and Bees—Hello Porn,” and “Going Out, Going Nowhere.”

One thing in the book that surprised me: the importance of our kids’ social lives.

“Nothing takes up more brain space for your child than figuring out how to maintain his balance in the new social order while also figuring out what to do with gangly legs, impulsive thoughts, and self doubt,” Icard writes. “Your child’s success in the middle school years, and well into adulthood, relies on his ability to successfully navigate his social scene so that the bumpy terrain doesn’t throw his psychological and emotional development too far off kilter.”

If the social scene is that important, then surely we parents should be doing something to help, right?

Wrong again.

“I think the biggest mistake parents make is trying to fix social problems for their kids,” Icard says. “In the book, I point out that by middle school kids need to be empowered to solve their own problems. This means parents must shift from micromanaging their kids’ social lives to becoming good assistant managers.”

The role of assistant managers is especially important, according to Icard, because people’s brains don’t fully develop until they reach their 20s.

Despite it all, Icard says middle school can be a joyful time of discovery, laughter and surprises.

“We’re right in the thick of it,” she says. “When I asked my daughter after her first day of middle school what surprised her the most, she replied, ‘Mustaches.’ That made me laugh. Certainly the different rate at which kids develop is surprising to kids in middle school.”

Another surprise for Icard was when her kids told her they were studying sex ed in health class and claimed they never got the “sex talk” at home.

“In my mind, we had talked through all aspects of reproduction, healthy bodies, healthy relationships and so on, many times,” she says. “But I guess because I never said, ‘This is the talk,’ they thought we never covered it. My takeaway is that conversations with middle schoolers need to be very explicitly conveyed. Tell them what you’re about to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you just told them.”

The whole middle school process is hard, and it’s bound to get sloppy.

But Icard says parents should approach it optimistically. She writes: “What if, instead of dreading middle school, we got excited about it? There is a lot of magic that happens during the middle school years and it has the potential to be one of the best times of your parenting life ... if you can see middle school through a new lens.”

So I’m going to try to refocus and put on a happy face. And finish this book.

For more information about the book, visit

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