Middle School Parenting Mistakes I Made—That You Don’t Have To

middle school parenting mistakes

by Jane Parent

My kids have long since emerged from the dark tunnel of middle school. But I remember those wondrous, bewildering, exasperating years all too well. We made so many middle school parenting mistakes. However, I can only see the answers of parenting middle schoolers with the benefit of hindsight. If I could do it all over again, there are five things I wish we had done differently. It’s too late for my kids, but there’s no reason you can’t profit from my middle school parenting fails.

Parenting Middle Schoolers: Parenting Fails I Made


Bringing Forgotten Stuff to School.

You see the forgotten lunch bag as soon as you get back from dropping them off. Honestly, your intentions are so pure. Your son shouldn’t go hungry. (Or have to sit out gym class, get a detention, or get a zero in English for forgetting items.) Secretly, you kind of like being the hero, too, swinging into action to save the day for little Jack or Mackenzie. And the teacher will be impressed by what a dedicated parent you are! Plus, you can’t have a blemish on their sixth grade report card. They might not get into Dartmouth, right?

Don’t do it. You aren’t helping your kid to become a responsible, conscientious young adult. Guess what? He’ll forget his lunch again next week. Some kids only learn the hard way. By cushioning the blunt impact of the lesson, you are most assuredly guaranteeing it will happen again. The stakes for failure are the lowest they are ever going to be when they are in middle school.

From this point on, the consequences just get bigger and more painful. Let them fail now. If you bring the forgotten school report today, you are merely increasing the odds that junior year in high school he will “forget” his printed admission ticket for the SAT. And he will expect you to run it to him at 7:30 a.m. on some snowy February morning. Instead, help your son or daughter learn to plan ahead. Do not permit theirpoor planning to become your emergency.


Video Games After School

When my sons got home from school, they would grab a bowl of cheddar Goldfish and retire to the basement for Playstation. And I let them, because everyone needs a little break to clear their minds, right? For some foolish reason, I trusted them to be able to manage their own time. I assumed they would turn off the game and get on with homework. A classic middle school parenting mistake. Video games were like heroin to my older son. A half hour always turned into an hour or two.

My son usually ended up squandering the most productive portion of the afternoon. He left his homework for after sports practice—when he was physically and mentally exhausted. No surprise that his work product frequently suffered as a result, or was altogether skipped.

By the time our youngest son was in sixth grade, we instituted a blanket rule: no video or computer games on school nights. Period. I wish we had done it earlier.


Letting Them Quit Piano Lessons

We had a wonderful Russian piano teacher named Elena who came to our house for lessons. Every week, she implored my children to practice. My daughter was fairly diligent, but the boys hated the forced inactivity of piano lessons. They did the bare minimum and sighed and squirmed through their lessons. It felt like a waste of time and money, and just one more thing about which I had to nag them. We had homework, sports, after school clubs, chores, time with friends, and about a million other things they’d rather be doing—so I let them quit.

At some point in high school, after seeing an accomplished classmate perform at a school concert or assembly, each of my kids has turned to me and said wistfully, “I wish I could still play the piano.” Me too.


“You’re So Smart—If You Just Tried A Little Harder …”

For years, I thought that my oldest son just wasn’t motivated by grades. He was so smart, after all. Whenever he came home with a disappointing grade, we would say something like, “You’re so smart. If you just tried a little harder, you could be getting an A.” We didn’t want to crush his little spirit.

So he did try—but only just a little bit. We had, in effect, given him permission to do the bare minimum in his schoolwork. Inadvertently, we had encouraged him to believe that being smart was enough to get good grades. If I could do it again, I would give him a big serving of “Toughen up, buttercup.” Instead of telling my precious snowflake how smart he was, I should have told him that success comes from effort, self-discipline, and preparation. No one succeeds simply because his mother has told him he is “so smart.”


Studying In Bed

Our daughter’s bed became a cozy nest of textbooks, fleece blankets, wrappers, tissues, dirty dishes, and nail polish bottles. Occasionally, it was so messy she had to sleep in the guest room.

For years, she had trouble falling asleep, struggling with racing thoughts, and insomnia. Sometimes she fell asleep when she should’ve been studying.

I know now that she should not have made her bed a “home office.” In order to ensure a restful night’s sleep, our beds must be reserved for sleep. We should have insisted that she use her desk for studying, and her bed for sleeping. I could have saved her from those dark circles under her eyes and a few years of chronic exhaustion in high school.

Jane Parent is senior editor of Your Teen.

Minecraft, an Obsession and an Educational Tool

The New York Times

Luca Citrone, 8, and his sister Willow play Minecraft before they go to bed.Michael CitroneLuca Citrone, 8, and his sister Willow play Minecraft before they go to bed.

If you were to walk into my sister’s house in Los Angeles, you’d hear a bit of yelling from time to time. “Luca! Get off Minecraft! Luca, are you on Minecraft again? Luca! Enough with the Minecraft!”

Luca is my 8-year-old nephew. Like millions of other children his age, Luca is obsessed with the video game Minecraft. Actually, obsessed might be an understated way to explain a child’s idée fixe with the game. And my sister, whom you’ve probably guessed is the person doing all that yelling, is a typical parent of a typical Minecraft-playing child: she’s worried it might be rotting his brain.

For those who have never played Minecraft, it’s relatively simple. The game looks a bit crude because it doesn’t have realistic graphics. Instead, it’s built in 16-bit, a computer term that means the graphics look blocky, like giant, digital Lego pieces.

Unlike other video games, there are few if any instructions in Minecraft. Instead, like the name suggests, the goal of the game is to craft, or build, structures in these 16-bit worlds, and figuring things out on your own is a big part of it. And parents, it’s not terribly violent. Sure, you can kill a few zombies while playing in the game’s “survival mode.” But in its “creative mode,” Minecraft is about building, exploration, creativity and even collaboration.

The game was first demonstrated by Markus Persson, a Swedish video game programmer and designer known as Notch, in 2009 and released to the public in November 2011. Today, the game runs on various devices, including desktop computers, Google Android smartphones, Apple iOS and the Microsoft Xbox. There are thousands of mods, or modifications, for the game, that allow people to play in prebuilt worlds, like a replica of Paris (Eiffel Tower included) or an ancient Mayan civilization.

While parents — my sister included — might worry that all these pixels and the occasional zombie might be bad for children, a lot of experts say they shouldn’t fret.

Earlier this year, for example, a school in Stockholm made Minecraft compulsory for 13-year-old students. “They learn about city planning, environmental issues, getting things done, and even how to plan for the future,” said Monica Ekman, a teacher at the Viktor Rydberg school.

Around the world, Minecraft is being used to educate children on everything from science to city planning to speaking a new language, said Joel Levin, co-founder and education director at the company TeacherGaming. TeacherGaming runs MinecraftEdu, which is intended to help teachers use the game with students.

A history teacher in Australia set up “quest missions” where students can wander through and explore ancient worlds. An English-language teacher in Denmark told children they could play Minecraft collectively in the classroom but with one caveat: they were allowed to communicate both orally and through text only in English. A science teacher in California has set up experiments in Minecraft to teach students about gravity.

Mr. Levin said that in addition to classroom exercises, children were learning the digital skills they would need as they got older.

“Kids are getting into middle school and high school and having some ugly experiences on Facebook and other social networks without an understanding of how to interact with people online,” he said. “With Minecraft, they are developing that understanding at a very early age.”

While there are no known neuroscience studies of Minecraft’s effect on children’s brains, research has shown video games can have a positive impact on children.

A study by S.R.I. International, a Silicon Valley research group that specializes in technology, found that game-based play could raise cognitive learning for students by as much as 12 percent and improve hand-eye coordination, problem-solving ability and memory.

Games like Minecraft also encourage what researchers call “parallel play,” where children are engrossed in their game but are still connected through a server or are sharing the same screen. And children who play games could even become better doctors. No joke. Neuroscientists performed a study at Iowa State University that found that surgeons performed better, and were more accurate on the operating table, when they regularly played video games.

“Minecraft extends kids’ spatial reasoning skills, construction skills and understanding of planning,” said Eric Klopfer, a professor and the director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Scheller Teacher Education Program. “In many ways, it’s like a digital version of Lego.”

Professor Klopfer suggested that if parents were worried about the game, they should simply play it with their children. He said he set up a server in his house so his children’s friends could play together and he could monitor their behavior and then explain that some actions, even in virtual worlds, are unethical — like destroying someone’s Minecraft house, or calling them a bad name.

But Professor Klopfer warned that, as with anything, there was — probably to my nephew’s chagrin — such as thing as too much Minecraft.

“While the game is clearly good for kids, it doesn’t mean there should be no limits,” he said. “As with anything, I don’t want my kids to do any one thing for overly extended periods of time. Whether Legos or Minecraft; having limits is an important part their learning.”

Many children would happily ignore that little warning if their parents let them.

Last weekend, my sister saw Luca on his computer with what appeared to be Minecraft on the screen. “Luca, I told you, you can’t play Minecraft anymore,” she said.

“I’m not playing Minecraft, mama,” he replied. “I’m watching videos on YouTube of other people playing Minecraft.”

Can Playing Video Games Give Girls an Edge In Math?


 | July 24, 2013

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Girls should play more video games. That’s one of the unexpected lessons I take away from a rash of recent studies on the importance of—and the malleability of—spatial skills.

First, why spatial skills matter: The ability to mentally manipulate shapes and otherwise understand how the three-dimensional world works turns out to be an important predictor of creative and scholarly achievements, according to research published this month in the journalPsychological Science. The long-term study found that 13-year-olds’ scores on traditional measures of mathematical and verbal reasoning predicted the number of scholarly papers and patents these individuals produced three decades later.

But high scores on tests of spatial ability taken at age 13 predicted something more surprising: the likelihood that the individual would develop new knowledge and produce innovation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the domains collectively known as STEM.

The good news is that spatial abilities can get better with practice. A meta-analysis of 217 research studies, published in the journal Psychological Science last year, concluded that “spatial skills are malleable, durable and transferable”: that is, spatial skills can be improved by training; these improvements persist over time; and they “transfer” to tasks that are different from the tasks used in the training.

This last point is supported by a study published just last month in the Journal of Cognition and Development, which reported that training children in spatial reasoning can improve their performance in math. A single twenty-minute training session in spatial skills enhanced participants’ ability to solve math problems, suggesting that the training “primes” the brain to tackle arithmetic, says study author and Michigan State University education professor Kelly Mix.

Playing an action video game “can virtually eliminate” the gender difference in a basic capacity they call spatial attention.

Findings like these have led some researchers to advocate for the addition of spatial-skills training to the school curriculum. That’s not a bad idea, but here’s another way to think about it: the informal education children receive can be just as important as what they learn in the classroom. We need to think more carefully about how kids’ formal and informal educational experiences fit together, and how one can fill gaps left by the other.

If traditional math and reading skills are emphasized at school, for example, parents can make sure that spatial skills are accentuated at home—starting early on, with activities as simple as talking about the spatial properties of the world around us. A 2011 study from researchers at the University of Chicago reported that the number of spatial terms (like “circle,” “curvy,” and “edge”) parents used while interacting with their toddlers predicted how many of these kinds of words children themselves produced, and how well they performed on spatial problem-solving tasks at a later age.

[RELATED: How Thinking in 3D Can Improve Math and Science Skills]

As kids grow older, much of the experience they get in manipulating three-dimensional objects comes from playing video games—which brings us back to the contention at the start of this article. Males have historically held the advantage over females in spatial ability, and this advantage has often been attributed to genetic differences. But males’ spatial edge may also reflect, in part, differences in the leisure-time activities of boys and girls, activities that add up to a kind of daily drill in spatial skills for boys.

If that’s the case, then offering girls more opportunities to practice their spatial skills may begin to close the spatial-skills gender gap—and produce more female scientists, engineers and mathematicians in the bargain. So suggests a study by University of Toronto researchers, published in the journal Psychological Science. They found that playing an action video game “can virtually eliminate” the gender difference in a basic capacity they call spatial attention, while at the same time reducing the gender difference in the ability to mentally rotate objects, a higher-level spatial skill.

Exposure to video games, the authors conclude, “could play a significant role as part of a larger strategy designed to interest women in science and engineering careers.” Participants with little prior video-game exposure “realized large gains after only ten hours of training,” they note, adding that “we can only imagine the benefits that might be realized after weeks, months, or even years of action-video-gaming experience.”

Parents of daughters may blanch at the idea of actually encouraging “years” of action video game play. These moms and dads should tell themselves that their daughters aren’t wasting their time—they’re readying themselves for brilliant careers as scientists and engineers.

10 Ways To Help Boost Your Child’s Intelligence

Access this link for details on the following 10 things that you can do to help boost your child’s intelligence:

1. Play Brain Games

2. Make Music

3. Breast Feed

4. Foster Fitness

5. Play Video Games

6. Junk the Junk Food

7. Nurture Curiosity

8. Read

9. Teach Confidence

10. Breakfast Breeds Champions

Mature-Rated Video Games May Lead Teens to Reckless Behavior

Risk-Glorifying Video Games May Lead Teens to Drive Recklessly, New Research Shows

Certain games may increase rebelliousness, sensation seeking among adolescents, study finds

September 11, 2012

WASHINGTON—Teens who play mature-rated, risk-glorifying video games may be more likely than those who don’t to become reckless drivers who experience increases in automobile accidents, police stops and willingness to drink and drive, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.

“Most parents would probably be disturbed to learn that we observed that this type of game play was more strongly associated with teen drivers being pulled over by the police than their parenting practices,” said study lead author Jay G. Hull, PhD, of Dartmouth College. “With motor vehicle accidents the No. 1 cause of adolescent deaths, popular games that increase reckless driving may constitute even more of a public health issue than the widely touted association of video games and aggression.”

Researchers conducted a longitudinal study involving more than 5,000 U.S. teenagers who answered a series of questions over four years in four waves of telephone interviews. The findings were published online in APA’s journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture®.

Fifty percent of the teens reported in the first interview that their parents allowed them to play mature-rated games and among those, 32 percent said they had played Spiderman II, 12 percent had played Manhunt and 58 percent had played Grand Theft Auto III. Playing video games such as Grand Theft Auto III, Manhunt and Spiderman II was associated with increases in sensation seeking, rebelliousness and self-reported risky driving, the study said. Higher rankings in sensation seeking and rebelliousness were directly linked to risky driving habits, automobile accidents, being stopped by police and a willingness to drink and drive, according to the analysis.

Between the second and third interviews, teens who said they had been pulled over by the police increased from 11 percent to 21 percent; those who said they had a car accident went from 8 percent to 14 percent. In the third interview, when the teens were about 16 years old, 25 percent said “yes” when asked if they engaged in any unsafe driving habits. In the final interview when the teens were about 18, 90 percent said “yes” to at least one of the same risky driving habits: 78 percent admitted to speeding; 26 percent to tailgating; 23 percent to failure to yield; 25 percent to weaving in and out of traffic; 20 percent to running red lights; 19 percent to ignoring stop signs; 13 percent to crossing a double line; 71 percent to speeding through yellow lights; and 27 percent to not using a seatbelt.

The researchers determined the teens’ levels of sensation seeking and rebelliousness by asking them to rate themselves on a four-point scale following questions such as “I like to do dangerous things” and “I get in trouble at school.” The study controlled for variables such as gender, age, race, parent income and education and parenting styles described as warm and responsive or demanding.

“Playing these kinds of video games could also result in these adolescents developing personalities that reflect the risk-taking, rebellious characters they enact in the games and that could have broader consequences that apply to other risky behaviors such as drinking and smoking,” Hull said.

The initial sample was 49 percent female, 11 percent black, 62 percent white, 19 percent Hispanic, 2 percent Asian/Pacific Islander and 6 percent multiple ethnicity. The surveys began when the average age of the participants was about 14; at the second survey, they were about 15; at the third, 16; and at the fourth, 18. Eight months separated the first and second interviews; one-and-a-half years separated the second and third interviews; and two years separated the third and fourth interviews. As is typical in longitudinal surveys, some participants dropped out. The number completing the questions for this study totaled 4,575 for the second interview, 3,653 for the third and 2,718 for the fourth.

The information regarding the teens’ driving habits was based on their own reports during the interviews, and therefore interpretation of the causes of their driving habits was speculative, the authors noted. “At the same time, because the study began when the participants were playing video games but were too young to drive, it is clear that the videogame exposure preceded the risky driving,” Hull said.

Article: “A Longitudinal Study of Risk-Glorifying Video Games and Reckless Driving;” Jay G. Hull, PhD, and Ana M. Draghici, BA, Dartmouth College; James D. Sargent, MD, Dartmouth Medical School, Psychology of Popular Media Culture, Vol. 1, No. 4.

Jay G. Hull, PhDcan be contacted byemail or by phone at (603) 646-2098.

The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world’s largest association of psychologists. APA’s membership includes more than 137,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people’s lives.

Original article