What a mixed backpack middle school is for parents! On the one hand, it is so very exciting and joyful to see our children grow into the larger people they are. But on the other, the bitter sweet feelings of “babies” growing up, collide with the larger issues tweens and teens face, and override the excitement and joy we are more comfortable feeling. As early childhood issues fade, the new ones that pop up can be more complex and grave.
It’s time for my family to go down the gravely, winding path of puberty, intense peer pressure, exposure to drugs and alcohol, risk taking, and many other unnamed things that makes up the tween and teen experience. Our oldest will start sixth grade in a month or so. Can’t she just be adorable and six years old? Or is there a middle ground where I can comfortably walk with her?
A recent “The Washington Post” article “Want To Keep Your Middle-Schooler Out of Trouble? Then Let Them Take Risks” by Michelle Icard , re ran in perfect timing and dosage, to soothe and tame the uncomfortable feelings that have been surfacing for me. Icard acknowledged the real issues and concerns that arise during these years, and the accompanying terror they often inflict upon parents.
Icard discusses the neurological reasons for these events, explaining how the brain’s amygdala takes center stage. It is the emotional center of the brain, that usurps the prefrontal cortex during the tween and teen years. In its “coup,” we can begin to understand why tween and teens become dramatic, impulsive, and such risk takers at times. It serves as a strong and important developmental purpose, as courage and risk taking are needed to start to become the separate, fully grown adults, are children are trying to become.
Ms. Icard advocates for healthy risk taking, in terms of new school activities, jobs, sports, etc that “feed the need,” to be a risk taker at this point in life. While stating the need for obvious limits, she also advises that a total crackdown on freedom and the chance to try new things (a reactive and maladaptive parenting approach) will backfire in the end. At best, it stymies our children’s chances to experience news things and potentially find their niche, separate from us. At worst, it can be that very thing that a risk deprived tween or teen needs to propel her into drugs or early sexual activity.
So while multicolored hair, wearing shorts in the coldest of weather, listening to terrible music, and going Goth may not sit well for us, she states that it is a fairly harmless way for our kids to try on different identities and develop. In fact, it is incredibly healthy and normal. Here’s to the great middle school years ahead and thank you for the balm of your words, Michelle Icard! For additional insights into the brains workings you might also watch Disney’s Inside Out.