Understanding & Motivating the Middle School Student

Picture this dialogue….

Daughter: “Mom, I can’t go to school today!” (Stomping down the stairs)
Mom:  Hugging her, mom says, “Why? Are you feeling ok?”
Daughter: “Are you kidding? Look at my hair….I can’t go to school looking like this! Can you imagine what my friends will think when I walk in looking like this!” (Tears pouring down her face)
Mom: “I am sorry hunny. You have to go to school. Is there anything I can do? How can I help?”
Daughter: “Don’t worry about it! Nobody can help this! I’ll just go. I can tell it is going to be the worst day ever!”

Has this, or something like this, happened to you? Has your child hit middle school? Whether your child starts middle school as a 6th or 7th grader, this is a time of massive and intense growth.  Their bodies are flooded with emotions, making them susceptible to overreaction and mood swings.  Because of the number of changes that take place, it can be a confusing, exciting, and challenging time for both parents and teens. One of the biggest things you will notice is your teen’s friendship network expands at the same time that they are adjusting to increases in school work.  While grades remain important, how their hair looks for the day can sometimes rival as the top priority.

To a teen, middle school can be a great adventure. To a parent, it can be very scary! Parents may worry that their child is pulling away from family and relying more on friends for company and support.  Parents may also begin to notice competing motivations between academic and social goals.  This is because middle school is the transitional period when children begin to develop social and moral competencies, as well as intellectual skills. Both are important, but for different reasons.  Making friends, being accepted, and gaining support from a group of peers is important to your child’s developing sense of self.  Learning study skills and building good habits with regard to school is important for lifelong learning.  While it is easy to compartmentalize the social and academic aspects of your teen’s life, it is important to understand that they actually go together. Research shows that those who feel connected to and supported by peers, parents, and teachers do better in school.  Part of our role as parents is to recognize this and help teens develop skills to balance social and academic commitments.

Of course, parents want to see their children do well in school and in social situations. We have all heard, or even said ourselves, “I want my children to have it easier than I did“.   While some studies have shown that the transition to middle school can make young teens vulnerable to declines in self-esteem and even grades, others have provided guidelines to protect young teens from potential setbacks.  Here are a few things to think about as you help your teen develop good relationships and navigate their new school environment. All of these involve engaging in conversations, listening, and trying to understand what motivates your teen:

1.  Instill an interest in learning. When middle schoolers can find satisfaction in the process of learning, they are more likely to persist in the face of challenge or failure. They are also more likely to feel good about school.

2.  Focus less on achieving something than on the process of learning.  Sometimes, middle schoolers can be motivated simply to achieve a good grade on a test or a high status position in a particular peer group.  This desire to achieve is often driven by expectations, values, and foreseen consequences (good and bad) that are placed on them, either individually or by those whose opinions matter. Pay attention to whose opinions matter most to your teen, talk to them about why those opinions matter, and encourage them to surround themselves with people who share common expectations and values.

3.  Understand that middle school is a much bigger world than elementary school.  This can make it harder for teens to build relationships with teachers.  Because these relationships are related to academic success, it is important that parents help teens find ways to connect with their teachers.

4. Don’t loose site of what it was like to go to middle school.  Reflecting and sharing what it was like for you can help your teen disclose their own experiences.  Tell them what you think. Even when it doesn’t seem like it, your teen is looking to you for guidance and support.

5. Stay connected to friends and the parents of friends. Develop coffee times, book clubs, or other social settings where you can get to know one another.  Share your values and expectations, and let other parents know you are invested in raising healthy teens together.

6.  Understand that it is sometimes through failure and setback that teens learn the most. Don’t rescue teens from their mistakes. Instead, be there to help them understand and learn from their mistakes. It is through their personal experiences that they will develop their own motivations.

Investing in our children is an emotional experience and one that can be joyful when things are going well and painful when we have to see them struggle.  Helping them to stay on track in school requires accepting their increased motivation to spend time with friends as a normal developmental process, while also helping them learn new strategies to find the balance between social and school commitments. Being able to find balance is a life skill that will serve them for many years to come. And remember that having a bad hair day is a really big deal, with perceived social ramifications. Sometimes it is best to say nothing. Empathize and be present with them, and don’t take their lashings personal. You are their anchor, their harbor in the storm of middle school.

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Motivating Teens: What Does Self-Control Have To Do With It?

Think back to when you were 4 years old.  What would you do if someone put you in a room with a marshmallow and asked you not to eat it?  What if the person said you could have two marshmallows if you could wait 15 minutes to eat it? Would it be easier to hold off then? In the short video below, Dr. David Walsh suggests that the ability to resist the marshmallow is linked to happiness, school success, popularity, and overall adjustment, all the way up to 18 years of age.

The message is clear. Saying no to our children and teaching them to say no to themselves could be a great benefit to them.  Why?  Because the ability to withhold immediate gratification of the small pleasures in life could help them achieve bigger goals. Being able to resist immediate gratification requires self-control and achieving goals requires motivation. So, let’s look at how motivation and self-control work together. Continue reading “Motivating Teens: What Does Self-Control Have To Do With It?”

Heart Rate Training: Some Nuances

Ever sang while you where running? This sounds really funny…but, it appears that I can lower my heart rate by singing! Ok….so that will get some pretty funny looks at the gym, but it isn’t so bad when you are running outside! All kidding aside, in the last few weeks I have consistently monitored my heart rate and learned some interesting things. How much sleep did I get? How much water did I drink the night before or the morning of? What did I eat and when? Where are my arms hanging? How loose am I keeping my body? Am I leaning slightly forward? How can I send more energy to my legs? Is this starting to sound obsessive?!?! The crazy thing is that all of these things seem to effect my heart rate.

Things that appear to effect heart rate:

1. Drink lots of water! I am drinking more water the night before and right when I get up in the morning. This seems to be more effective than drinking water as I am getting ready to run or during a run.
2. Food matters A LOT! I won’t get into too big of a discussion on nutrition; that could be a whole blog post! Simply said, it helps me to eat a balance meal the night before and raw foods before a run. Raw foods seem to give me lots of energy, and they don’t feel heavy on my tummy.
3. Good sleep makes it easier! Admittedly, I am a bit of a night owl. But, I have noticed that a sound sleep the night before is a huge bonus. It improves my energy to run and keeps the heart rate down.
4. Think about your body posture! While I generally think of myself as having good form, I have been paying attention to little nuances…opening up my chest, focusing my energy into my legs (I can thank yoga instructors for that terminology!), and keeping my shoulders and arms loose.
5. Work on steady breathing! I am either breathing in through my nose and out my mouth, or I am keeping my mouth closed and only breathing through my nose. Both of these strategies appear to help regulate my breath.

For now I am simply making observations and keeping track of what seems to be working and what isn’t. I will be digging into the reading on some of these things to learn more about them. I have found that using these strategies, I am sometimes able to drop my heart hate as much as 5-10 beats. It is amazing what focus, concentration, and persistence can do!

Until later, happy running!!!

Raising Teenagers: Interview with Steven Spierer

Teenagers are a breed of their own, and raising teenagers is not an easy task.  Recently, I was invited to speak with Steven Spierer on Talk Radio One about raising teenagers and building healthy parent-child relationships.  Having raised teenagers himself, Mr. Spierer frequently incorporates information about parenting into his show. Check out his website at http://www.talkradioone.com/  He has some great stuff!

Happy Parenting!

Shelly D. Mahon on the Steven Spierer Show

 

Motivating Teens: The Role of Independence

The need to feel as though our behavior is truly chosen, not imposed upon us, may be its strongest during adolescents.  During this time between childhood and adulthood, teens are striving for independence at the same time that they still need guidance from their parents.  As children move into adolescence, they are motivated by a strong desire to be seen as more mature, capable of making decisions, and worthy of being treated as though they are getting older.  Just the other day a 12 year old girl said to me, “I really don’t like Paul [a 20-something year old in her martial arts class] because he treats me like I am a little kid.  I know that I am not grown up, Continue reading “Motivating Teens: The Role of Independence”

Motivating Teens: Pain, Pleasure, & the Pressure to Achieve

Have you ever found yourself doing something for fear of negative consequences?  Ever tried to achieve something difficult, just to prove to yourself that you can?  Have you ever pushed yourself to do a dreaded task, only to find you truly love what you are doing?  Think about each of these scenarios. Why do we do what we do?  What is the source of our motivation?  Motivation can be thought of as a movement away from pain or toward pleasure.  You may do your best on a project at work to avoid getting laid off.  This is a movement away from pain.  You may bump up your training miles so that you can run a marathon.  Gaining the personal satisfaction of completing a marathon is a movement toward pleasure.

We have all done things to avoid pain or feel pleasure.  In fact, chances are good that we have all used these strategies to influence our teen’s actions.  Think about these scenarios. “Be nice to your sister, or you will Continue reading “Motivating Teens: Pain, Pleasure, & the Pressure to Achieve”

Heart Rate Training: How Does it Work?

I am an avid runner and have recently started heart rate training.  I did this about five years ago, but after some time it fell to the wayside.  Now, I am back at it!  As I remembered, slowing myself down is the hardest part!

I figured I would read up on the facts this time around. Your heart rate tells you the intensity of your work out. How intense you train depends on your fitness goals.  If you are a beginner runner, heart rate training can help you understand how your body reacts to running.  It also helps you control your workouts so that you don’t over train or hurt yourself.   If you have some experience with running, heart rate training can help you Continue reading “Heart Rate Training: How Does it Work?”