Meaning: With the often startling eruption of mood, behavior, and body changes during the tween years, many parents will see this period as a time to fight the beast or to flee from their own responsibilities. It’s no wonder that parents just try to survive and “get through” these middle school years; and it’s no wonder parents think that school work or academic interest just goes into the toilet during these years. This developmental phase can mean an agonizing cacophony of changes: kids are thinking more abstractly; formulating opinions; arguing points; pointing out injustice; challenging authority; questioning policies; insisting on have their voices heard; pressing boundaries; acting silly; flouting the rules; turning snarky. This all may seem alarming for the uninitiated, but this is the time to shift teaching and parental strategies, because the methods that worked for younger elementary children will not work at all when kids turn ten and eleven and go roaring into their teenage years. The upside to these years—from the standpoint of brain development and new cognitive processes—deserve greater attention. The ten, eleven, and twelve year olds are developing their reasoning abilities: they are beginning to listen in different ways, such as comparing what they hear with what they feel or believe. They are beginning to see the bigger picture; they can initiate problem-solving with a fresh attitude and greater confidence; they are definitely beginning to think more independently; they are cultivating their own beliefs and forming new opinions; they are learning to argue their position, and they will try out new persuasive tactics; they are developing a stronger sense of justice and are keen to spot unfairness. The opportunity is there to make these years rewarding for children—the best middle school teachers know this very well. They know how to tap into these emerging capacities; they are aware of kids’ growing interest in forming opinions and debating topics; they recognize and know how to accommodate their intensifying independence; they know how to present abstract concepts in understandable and appealing ways; and they also know how to bob and weave to new student behaviors that can seem annoying and frustrating to the lesser experienced teacher. In fact, talk to an experienced and well-regarded middle school teacher, and they’ll happily tell you that they love their job, they love these children, and they love this age group. [Hearing this, the parent thinks about responding, “Well then maybe my kid ought to move in with you—I’ll gladly ditch this parent game for a few years.”] The upshot for this age group is that the growth spurts taking place physically are happening at the same time the brain is developing facets of its cognitive features that lend wonderful opportunities for strengthening the child’s inquiry, critical thinking, exploratory, analytical, and reasoning skills.
Actions: Among the best approaches to tap into the developing tween brain and mindset is have patience and listen to your kids while they plow through their new thinking, their attempts to articulate fresh opinions, their excitement with new ideas (no matter how ridiculous). Take their thoughts and opinions seriously and respectfully, and respond to them with an approach of careful reasoning. Avoid ridiculing them and refrain from making dismissive or belittling comments, like that’s so stupid and idiotic. Instead, come back to them with questions for them to consider and have them find their way to a more reasonable idea or opinion. Continue to engage with your tweens about the school day, but your approach must change—at this age, kids won’t provide the real learning picture of what is going on during the school day, at least they won’t serve up an accurate portrait of the day on their own. You’ll need to wheedle your way into the subject of what’s going on at school; better yet, continue to express interest in the topics they are studying, the books they are reading, the projects they are undertaking. Start including them in the discussion of important national topics on the news; push them to think more deeply about a new belief or opinion they are espousing. If you haven’t gotten to this level of shared household management with them, start giving your tween a partnership role or new responsibilities by including them in decision-making. Show excitement when they take charge about something or exhibit interest in a craft or hobby. Above all, stoke their curiosity and back their interest in anything that would lead them to learn more about a topic, an era of history, a place in the world, or a political conflict facing the nation. Remember, while their brains are developing, and they are far away from adult-like thinking, they could very well be forming a passion that can fuel their motivation and drive for personal achievement and academic success for years to come.
Learning: An excellent article on the topic of how teachers can inspire inquiry skills in their students is “How to Ignite Intellectual Curiosity in Students,” by Ben Johnson, found on the Edutopia.org site. Another worthwhile article for teachers is “Fostering Curiosity In Your Students,” by Marilyn Arnone, which is on the educationoasis.com site. Some excellent advice for parents on how to keep the conversational lines alive with your pre-teen is the article, “10 Tips For Parenting Pre-Teens,” by Juliann Gary, which is on the childmind.org site. You’ll be the new super-dad or super-mom if you can incorporate the ideas found in this article, “Easy Ways to Inspire Your Tween,” by Jennifer O’Donnell, found on the verywellfamily.com site.