The ages between 12 – 15 are an interesting time for our children. They are growing up in so many ways. Not a kid, but not an adult. They don’t have their license, so they don’t have the freedom to run. Hormones, puberty, and everything else going on in their bodies, makes them self-conscious and unable to understand all these new feelings…some good, some bad. They want to escape, to hide from the world, from people, from you. Their bedroom is a safe space, so they may esacpe to their room for hours on end. As a parent, we sometimes are happy to be free of the teenage attitude. But then you may catch yourself wondering, is this normal? Are they OK? How do I get my middle schooler to leave their room?
What is Normal?
I never thought I would say this, but I think it was easier when they were a baby. They couldn’t say what they needed, but it was a predictable pattern, of sleep, food, wet diaper, or cuddles/comfort. Now as a middle schooler, they still have trouble saying exactly what they need, but there is definitely a patter of normal behaviors here.
- Mood Swings – buckle up and get ready to ride this out!
- Need for sleep – and lots of it.
- Desire to be alone – struggling to find their independence.
- Eating habits change – Can we just say ouch for the grocery bill?
- Change in Appearance – besides all the typical growth spurts, they start to experiment in personality with their clothes, etc.
Signs of Depression
Looking at teenage behavior, how do you really know when you should be concerned?
Below is a list from Mayo Clinic on the symptoms of depression for teens. Although some of these may seem “normal”, as a parent you want to note if there are multiple symptoms or if these symptoms get in the way of your child carrying out their day to day life. If you have any questions, seek out a professional such as your family doctor or trained therapist.
- Feelings of sadness, which can include crying spells for no apparent reason
- Frustration or feelings of anger, even over small matters
- Feeling hopeless or empty
- Irritable or annoyed mood
- Loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities
- Low self-esteem
- Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure, and the need for excessive reassurance
- Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
- Frequent thoughts of death, dying or suicide
- Tiredness and loss of energy
- Changes in appetite — decreased appetite and weight loss, or increased cravings for food and weight gain
- Agitation or restlessness — for example, pacing, hand-wringing or an inability to sit still
- Frequent complaints of unexplained body aches and headaches, which may include frequent visits to the school nurse
- Social isolation
- Less attention to personal hygiene or appearance
- Angry outbursts, disruptive or risky behavior, or other acting-out behaviors
Read here to learn more about anxiety!
How to engage the Middle Schooler?
Whether your child is depressed or being a normal teenager, it is important as a parent to continue to engage them as much as possible. Keep an open dialogue between you. Let conversation flow naturally. One of the best spots for conversation are when you are in a vehicle or on a walk. The simple reason is because you are not facing each other. People tend to open up more when they know someone is listening, but they don’t have to look them in the eye.
Here are other considerations for how to connect with your teenager.
1. Find something they are interested in – Do you think I like Skating? Heck no! But my daughter does. And if that means I have to strap on some skates and risk a broken bone, you better believe I will try. Too often we drag our children with us on our agenda. Get out there and do something that truly interests them…even if you risk prize winning embarrassing Instagram moment.
2. Relate to their maturity level and humor – If you have not checked out Dadosaur on TikTok yet, go Google it right now. You will not be disappointed. In these videos a dad changes into a dinosaur whenever his children say “Dadosaur”. In most videos you can hear the mother in the background asking him to stop his silly behavior. As adults, we do not find someone throwing trash around or making a huge mess of a cake as humorous, but children do.
3. Understand their self-consciousness – Middle School is an awkward time. Generally there are so many changes happening that kids are very self conscious. They don’t want to necessarily be seen in public. Therefore, it is important to respect that. Sometimes, I make my kids come to the store with me, but they sit in the car. At least I have gotten them out of the house and we tend to have great conversations in the car.
4. Forced Family Time – Sometimes they just don’t know what is good for them. Make a pattern of having a family dinner every night. Have a family game night. Go for family walks or hikes on the weekend. Usually we get grumbles, until we are in the middle of the activity. Sometimes I wonder if it is just a front they put on to look cool …because it isn’t cool to hang out with mom and dad.
5. If all else fails…food – Seriously, they have to eat. And sometimes, the only way I get them out of their room is by taking them to go get some food. Sometimes it is as simple as French Fries or Ice Cream. Whatever it is, it usually is a good round trip. Because in our house we do have a rule that if you want something, you have to come with in the car to go get it.
Cherish Every Moment
When they were babies, we used to take a picture of every smile or coo they made. People told me, “Cherish every moment.” When they are teenagers, I have to remember this same motto. Even five minutes of a conversation, or getting them to laugh at my stupid “mom rap”. Connect with them and cherish each of those moments, as they are just as special as the first time they smiled back at you as a baby.
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