Middle school ushers in the identity crisis years. As soon as our kids turn the corner and move from “tween” to “teen”, they start to feel rather important – understandably so. Physically, they start to look like adults and the schools acknowledge their growth by giving them a new identity – “middle-schoolers”. This ensures they are not going to be classed in the embarrassing category of “kids” anymore.
In their quest to be independent, yet still find a way to fit in and be accepted by their peers, our teens struggle with their “new skin”. They therefore look to the Joneses – in the media, neighborhood, school, anywhere – and every day they might have new “role models” to keep up with. My own experience has not been very different. My daughter took this new found identity quite seriously and from time to time we certainly had our tug-of-war. She began to question chores and clothes and rules and anything or anyone she could. Gone were the days when she put herself in time out, thinking she had crossed the line. Now, in her mind, there were no lines to cross – she was an “adult” of course.
Fashion has been a big part of our scene because of my work as a designer and therefore, it became my daughter’s normalcy. She loved to dress up and be stylish. I considered myself fortunate to have a little girl who loved hats and bags and shoes even when other kids her age couldn’t be bothered with these. She wasn’t even two when she had regular battles with anyone who didn’t allow her to match her underwear to her outfits – yes, a consequence of emphatic color recognition lessons! I was careful however, never to introduce the concept of brand consciousness. Imagine my surprise and dismay then, when here comes sixth grade and she is insistent that she wants some cheap looking “Converse” trainers that are not really worth the $$ – just because everyone at school thought they were the new cat’s meow!! She announced to me that everyone was into “Vera Bradley” purses but she thought they were “pretty ugly and old ladyish” – what a relief! Middle school also ushered in the age of new found independence. The result being, I – her mother – fell from grace. From being the omnipotent Mummy who could do no wrong, I became someone who needed to be in the wings – preferably hidden. Lunching with her at school, something we enjoyed from time to time in grade school was an unmentionable. And then came the revelation that perhaps her mother just wasn’t as smart as a middle schooler. I noticed that often her sentences began with “You know, WE in middle school…” After the first few weeks of hearing this, I realized I couldn’t live with the title of “Village Idiot” and decided to tackle the issue – “By the way, I have two college degrees and in order to get there, I had to go through middle school first – so I do know a little bit about middle school!” Well, that took care of that – I hope!
Michaela used to come home and let me know about all the new “adult” topics her classmates discussed. Most of them appeared to be on the topic of “dating” and that was our next battle ground. Not that she had anyone specific in mind, she just considered it a new “right” shall we say. I assured her this was not up for debate – I set the rules and we could argue about it but I was not going to cave. We could either battle and she would lose or she could accept the rule and we could live more harmoniously. My logic didn’t go unchallenged mind you. I had the “but other parents are ok with this – all teenagers date” response. This caused me to go all the way to the top of my high horse – “Of course they are – there are even parents out there that hand their kids birth control and condoms – I’m not one of them and the sooner you realize this, the better.” Whenever matters are of grave consequence – and this was one of those – I remind her how I asked God to bless me with children and He entrusted me with this blessing. Now, He was counting on me to guide her according to His will and I for one was not going to mess up my relationship with God by being a wimpy mother. This rationale has always worked for me because there really is no argument that she can come up with.
The good news is that the novelty of middle school wore off and my daughter who is now in eighth grade is more secure in who she is. She has realized that she eventually tired of “Converse” (yup- stinky feet!) or “North Face” or debating on the dating issue and that chores were going to continue to be a part of her life. Going against what is right and good is so glorified by our media, it is easy for our teens to feel ostracized and confused when they are actually following the right road and making sound judgments. In my opinion, the teen years are more challenging than the total dependency of the early childhood years – diapers et al.
Our teens might seem to be running from all that is secure and familiar – giving up home and hearth but in reality it is my belief, that they are quite afraid of all that is unfamiliar out there and crave the security of the familiar. My daughter is no pushover – she is rather opinionated (wonder where she gets that from!?) but thankfully quite logical. This necessitates me staying on my toes – mentally and emotionally – reasoning with her and using examples daily, to help keep her focused and on track to fulfill all her God given dreams. Part of the joy of being a non wimpy mother is finding the strength to love and accept who she is and helping her love how she is different from the Joneses.