Navigating the middle school years with ease |

Navigating the middle school years with ease

Middle School Makeover 1

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You may know her from Athena's Path or Hero's Pursuit, or perhaps you've heard her wisdom on the 'Michelle in the Middle' website (, but if you don't know Michelle Icard and you have tweens, it's time you get to know this Charlotte mom.

Icard has been immersed in all things middle school for the past decade, during which time she has developed five strong beliefs about this critical period in kids' lives:

-The middle school years can and should be fun for kids and parents.
-Kids in middle school need and deserve more freedom to explore who they are outside of their parents.
-You can take your middle schooler’s accomplishments and failures seriously without taking them personally.
-Raising middle schoolers is very different from raising elementary schoolers, and requires parents to change the way they relate to their kids.
-The social world of middle school is incredibly important to a child’s development and should be treated with respect.

Sound good, but impossible? Not, so, says Icard, and she's now sharing strategies for parents to understand and connect with tweens, and also ease their own stress during this tricky time in her new book, Middle School Makeover: Improving the Way Your and Your Child Experience the Middle School Years. The book offers parents and educators clear wisdom and pragmatic tools for working with their tweens and helping them navigate the middle school years, while also easing the stress that comes with being a parent or educator during this time.

Think about middle school....the time when children start to ask, “Who am I apart from my parents?” When every eye roll, heavy sigh and giggle from their peers help form the answer in their developing brains. Now throw Facebook statuses, Instagram comments and texts into the mix; every inappropriate remark, rumor spread and threat can affect a child well into adulthood. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ website states that most bullying happens in middle school, making the tween years an even more difficult period in one’s life.

According to Icard, middle school is when we embark on building our bodies, mature brains and unique identity, but this developmental phase isn’t always pretty. The middle school years are filled with impulsive actions, overflowing emotions, awkward miscommunication and even new and shocking smells, but it also sets the foundation for how a kid views himself for years to come. Helping a child build a strong foundation in this daunting social world makes the middle school years go much more smoothly because they’ll have confidence when faced with new challenges.

Without this confidence, a young girl is likely to shut down after being teased for developing too early or too late (body doubt), or confess taking a dare to avoid “looking like a wimp” (brain doubt). In Middle School Makeover, Icard teaches parents how to overcome the urge to micromanage in these situations, and instead play “assistant manager” to help kids develop their own critical thinking skills. And although it often seems like there are a lot of “don’ts” when parenting a middle schooler, Icard says there are simple ways to offer a tween support: help them take risks, express empathy, be unemotional in discipline and motivate with social reward.

“When a kid is in—or heading to—middle school, parents often feel they can either loosen up their parenting style or may think it’s time to tighten the screws,” says Icard. “The true key to having a happy middle school experience has nothing to do with backing off or clamping down, rather, it’s all about doing something different. Middle school is a parenting game changer.”

Icard also reviews the 13 scenarios that parents ask her about most often. Below are 5 of those 13 scenarios, and just some of the advice she offers in each situation, adapted from Middle School Makeover. Building on the theories of adolescent development and parenting that Icard covers in the book, this section dives deeper into what’s really happening in middle school and offers easy-to-follow, practical advice.

“Everyone Has an Instagram but Me”
-Social media is a part of every kid’s life, like it or not, so it’s futile trying to keep them away from it entirely. If a child doesn’t have an account that parents monitor, parents will not see the photos their child sees, and she will still see these images whether it’s through a friend or an account she opens with a fake name.
-Set the expectation that you will review your child’s use – less and less as she exhibits proper online behavior.
-Start a conversation by talking about something positive you saw on her account.
-Promise to never post negative or corrective comments on your kid’s posts, or her friend’s posts, online. Have these conversations privately, calmly and rationally.

Good Girls Gone Bad
-Because the media tells girls so often they need to be perfect, girls will draw attention to one another’s flaws and hide their own at all costs, creating a culture of social aggression.
-Empathize with your daughter, but don’t go overboard asking too many questions and talking about it every night at dinner.
-Don’t bash the others girls. Your daughter will take this as a personal attack against her judgment when choosing friends.
-Make an extra effort to make your daughter’s life a little more comfortable by inviting new friends over and keeping her active.

There’s More Than One Way to Be Cool
-Playing sports is a rite of passage for many boys, but we do boys a disservice when we glorify sports as the be-all and end-all of popularity. There are lots of ways boys can develop social collateral that they can trade in for cool points.
-Learn to play an instrument. Strike that—a cool instrument. Strike that again. Learn to play cool music on any instrument.
-Make and manage money. Encourage your son’s earning power by helping him start a small business, teach him to do manual labor over the summer, explain investment and begin to develop his reliable and hardworking persona.
-Talk sports. Your son may not be particularly good at playing sports, but he should understand the vocabulary of athletes.

Put-Downs and Comebacks
-It can feel unbearable to discover a child is being harassed or humiliated for another persona’s social gain, but there are some things a parent can do.
-Alert teachers and support staff at school about the bullying. Follow up with regular meetings to ensure your child is safe and that conditions are improving. You can decide whether or not to tell your child you’re doing this based on if you think they’ll feel embarrassed or encouraged by your support.
-Do not call the parents of the bullies. This never works. You will simply drag in more opinions to cloud the issue.
-Don’t over victimize your kid. Don’t let your child overhear you talking with other adults about her being bullied. That only furthers her humiliation.

MIDDLE SCHOOL MAKEOVER: Improving the Way You and Your Child Experience the Middle School Years
By Michelle Icard
bibliomotion books + media
Trade Paperback Original ISBN: 978-1-937134-97-6
Price: $19.95
Publication Date: May 13, 2014
Twitter: @MichelleIcard

More about Michelle

Michelle Icard, author, educator and social leadership strategist, creates emotional relief for t(w)eens, parents and educators by providing clear wisdom and pragmatic tools that ease stress and create connection.

In 2004, Michelle Icard launched Athena’s Path, a curriculum that helps girls navigate the tricky middle school social scene. Shortly after, she added Hero’s Pursuit for boys, and in 2011 launched her website about how to parent middle school children:

Athena’s Path & Hero’s Pursuit have been implemented in 30 schools, in six states and have impacted over 10,000 students. Over 250 teachers have been trained to implement the programs in schools. Michelle regularly speaks at schools and parenting events around the country and hosts Right in the Middle, a conference for girls headed to middle school and their moms. She has also written curriculum for other national programs for adolescents, including Girlology and Girls Rock the House. In addition to her own blog, Michelle writes for Your Teen Magazine, The Karina Chronicles and Charlotte Smarty Pants. She lives in Charlotte, NC with her husband, 13 year-old daughter and 11 year-old son.

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