Go away, but please don’t leave me alone.

April 19, 2012 | Posted in: Middle Years

There are days when connecting with my middle schooler seems as if I’m trying to crack some secret code from another planet. We cover the same material in our conversations, but our talks are often disjointed, and we are unable to relate on any rational level.

Then there are moments (“days” would be an exaggeration here) when it appears as if she’s actually handed me a detailed explanation of the code and, for this brief moment in time, we connect in a deep and meaningful way.

There is no denying the middle school years are rough. Increased academic demands, peer pressure, hormonal changes – they’re all mixed up in there. Our children are trying to figure who they are, where they belong, what they’re interested in … all while separating from us, which is necessary but, if truth be told, a little bit scary. Throw in a dose of self-doubt and a serving of self-consciousness and … well, you have a child who craves security at a time when little about them feels that way.

In their minds, we adults don’t get it. (Cue exaggerated eye roll.) We’re way too old to remember what middle school is really like. And, it’s just plain embarrassing when we start talking about it as if we do – especially in front of their friends.

Yet, as much as your middle schoolers – and mine – may be unwilling to admit it, they do need us. They just wish we knew a few things – things they might actually say to us if we weren’t so “uncool”:

Please listen to me.

I don’t always want to hear your big adult ideas. I want you to just listen to my hopes/dreams/fears/ideas/random thoughts. Please don’t laugh at what I say. What you think of as immature rambling is me trying on different “me’s” to figure out who I am.

Tell me I can be/do anything.

If I tell you I want to fly to the moon, don’t tell me NASA has ended its space program. Tell me if I believe it, I can be it.

Spend time with me, and help me create memories.

Those are the jewels I’ll hold onto as I journey through life. Sure, I’d love you to buy me stuff. (Hey, you could even get a credit card in my name.) What I will remember most, though, are those moments when you made me know that you loved me enough to do something with me.

Let me explore.

Please let me try new things – even if what I want to do/be/try changes from week to week or month to month. You have ideas about what I should do, or what you think I would be good at, but I need to figure that out on my own. If I try different things, I can find my own way, what I’m interested in, what I’m good at, and what makes me feel good about myself.

Don’t talk about me as if I’m not standing right here.

And please, please, please, don’t share with all your friends that embarrassing story about when I (fill in the blank). Humiliating me will make me feel even more insecure about myself. In fact, it makes me want to be around you less.

Growing up scares me.

Sure, I talk about how I can’t wait to drive, go to college and live on my own, far, far away from you … But the idea of being on my own actually scares me. I want to be little, and have little kid worries, and comforts close at hand. I want to be able to play, and if I’m grown up I might not be able to do that.

Let me know you love me.

If you don’t like my behavior, say that. But please don’t say things that make me believe you don’t love me.

Listen to me.

Yes, I’m repeating myself, because it’s important. Listening to me shows that you respect me – my thoughts, my ideas. It shows me you value me as a person. Listen to me, because growing up scares me, and I need to know that you are here for me, and that you love me. No matter what.


Karen Nerney is a writer and mom of three children who has (to date) survived three tours through middle school, including her own.

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