1. Become a student of your child. Because early adolescence brings so many maturational changes, learn all you can about your child from his teachers, pediatrician, youth director, and other parents.
2. Insist on respect and show respect. Remember that love and respect fit together like hand and glove. Give it and insist that your kids speak to others politely as well. It may be tough going, as this age can be mouthy and naturally rude. But insist anyway.
3. Use straight talk. Talk to your child about her friendships openly. Make sure you know where she fits in. Remind her that having friends—not being popular—will make her happiest over the long haul.
4. Speak early. Let kids know it’s easiest to speak up quickly in defense of a friend. Good intentions fade fast as the gossip express picks up speed.
5. Pay attention. Look at what your child loves to do. Ask him questions about what makes him happy, and find ways for him to do these activities with other kids.
6. Protect sleep. Pediatricians indicate that children in the middle school age range need nine to nine and a half hours of sleep per night. Try to make sure your child hits this mark most of the time.
7. Create a quiet zone. Establish a quiet workplace without noise or other distractions so children can complete homework undisturbed.
8. Safeguard weeknights. Protect evening time during the week so children can be home, completing homework and studying for tests.
9. Take time for 25. Make sure your child has regular access to books, reading at least 25 per year.
10. ID intelligence. Identify what your child is good at, and give him many chances to hone skills in this area.
Mobile phones, gaming, social networking, internet
11. Maintain tech-free bedrooms. Keep computers, laptops, televisions, and gaming equipment in common areas.
12. Keep bedtime boring. If you purchase mobile devices such as a cell phone, smartphone, MP3 player, Nintendo DS, or iPod Touch for your middle schooler, collect them all at bedtime so kids can sleep.
13. Restrict violence. Don’t purchase video games that are riddled with violence. If games are borderline, rent and preview them before buying.
14. Obey the rules. Kids must be 13 to join social networking sites such as Facebook. In fact, we advise waiting until high school at the earliest for Facebook.
15. Monitor social media and internet usage closely.
16. Install internet guardrails. Many parents choose to install internet filtering software or set up parental controls. But the best guardrails are conversations parents have with kids about safe ways to use the internet as well as family rules, consistently enforced, that govern internet use.
17. Don’t just throw out the bad; bring in the good. Use media as a teaching tool. View uplifting movies and have rich discussions. Play sports games on Xbox or Playstation with your child. Bowl together on your Wii. Download dance tunes and jump around.
18. Unplug. Turn off the recreational media spigot sometimes—for the day, for the week. Schedule time for nondigital family fun.
Sex, drugs, and alcohol
19. Remember your own adolescence and the way you handled sex. Deal with any regrets and don’t let the past co-opt the present.
20. Tell your child the truth about drugs, sex, and alcohol. Don’t leave it to the school or his friends to educate him.
21. Don’t give your child alcohol at home for any reason.
22. Monitor your middle schooler’s friends. If they are a bad influence encourage your child to find new friends. This is easier said than done. But do it anyway.
23. Be in the know. Know what goes on at parties. Make sure parents are present.
24. Talk about sexting. Explain the legal and emotional fallout from sexting to your kids. Talk about the shame and humiliation he or she will feel if a nude photo goes viral.
25. Discuss sex openly. Talk to your son or daughter about impulsivity, about modesty, and about the moral and proper way to relate to the opposite sex.
Imparting faith and virtue
26. Reclaim your spiritual role. You, even more than the church, are the most powerful spiritual influence on your child. Share your life experiences and evidences of God’s faithfulness to you with your children.
27. Let them experience real-life consequences. Teach kids to make it right with others when they make mistakes. Do not spare your child from the real-world consequences of his or her actions.
28. Forgive quickly. When kids act out or misbehave, they need to be assured of our forgiveness once they have been disciplined.
29. Say you’re sorry. Be willing to admit your mistakes. Your kids know anyway when you’ve messed up.
30. Be careful when kids confess. Watch your reactions closely. If you’re combustible and overreact when kids mess up, they will learn that you can’t handle the truth. Don’t make them wall off their hearts. Make truth-telling safe.
Adapted from From Santa to Sexting ©2012 by Brenda Hunter, PhD, and Kristen L. Blair. Used with permission of Leafwood Publishers.
You can hear Brenda Hunter and Kristen Blair interviewed on FamilyLife Today®.