Q My 7th grade daughter comes home every day and talks incessantly about the drama of the school day. I'm beginning to feel like I'm following a soap opera and find myself looking forward to the next chapter. Is this healthy for her (and me)?
A Congratulations on having a middle school daughter who talks to you. Keep listening and nurturing that open relationship. Exploring social relationships is typical for this age. As she talks about the events and people in her day, encourage her to talk about how she feels, and how she responds to the drama. This will keep the conversation focused on your daughter, rather than gossiping about others. It will also give you an opportunity to hear how the drama is impacting her on a daily basis. Keep your ears open for scenarios where your daughter, or anyone else, is not being treated with respect and kindness. Asking questions like, "hmm... I wonder how Rebecca felt when that happened?" can help your daughter build empathy for others. Having such a close relationship with your young daughter is certainly something to celebrate. Also, take time to develop and nurture your own friendships. This is important for your well-being, and also an opportunity to model healthy relationships for your daughter.
Q One evening as I was telling my son good night, he looked distracted and worried. He then told me that a friend had been talking about suicide. He quickly brushed it off telling me it was nothing to worry about and I better not overreact. What should I do?
A Don't overreact! Stay calm and keep listening. You could shut the conversation down by panicking or being emotional. It's also important not to dismiss the concern. Your son is clearly very worried; notice that out loud to him. Ask questions about what exactly he heard. If you have concern about the friend's immediate safety, don't hesitate to call 911 or report your concern to the Safe Oregon tip line at www.safeoregon.com. The tip line is a good resource, even if the concern isn't immediate. Information will get to people who are trained to evaluate the situation and provide appropriate support. Your son may struggle with you making a report. This is a common response as many people fear damaging a relationship or looking foolish. Validate your son's feelings. Tell him you know this is scary. Also share with him that you can't take any chances. It's better to have a friend who is upset, than a friend who is dead. People who talk about suicide are asking for help and it's important that we listen.
Q My 8th grade son is always acting out and is in detention many days. All I can get out of him is that he's joking around, and the teachers are mean. Should I meet with his counselor? He is a smart and engaged student, but he seems to be seeking attention.
A If your son is consistently in detention, something isn't working. Connect directly with the teacher or administrator who assigned the detention to find out more information about what's going on from their perspective. "Teachers are mean" isn't usually the whole story. Sometimes, though, miscommunication, misunderstood expectations, or even personality clashes can genuinely make it feel that way. Consulting with the school counselor can be very helpful. The counselor's job is to help all sides feel heard and understood. They can help you see your son's behavior in the context of the school system, while also working as an advocate for his individual needs. Attention seeking is pretty typical teen behavior, but can be a sign of underlying issues. The counselor can also talk with your child about what's going on in their lives and how they are feeling about school, friends and family.
Q My two middle-school age kids are very close and used to spend a lot of time together. Lately, though, they spend most of their time on their phones. Sometimes they don't even talk to each other for hours. Is this just the next phase?
A It doesn't have to be. Phones, internet and social media are part of young people's worlds and can be great tools for communication. However, when overuse starts negatively impacting friends, family or school, there is a problem. Set boundaries around your kids' technology use and screen time. Kids need to be taught how to use these tools responsibly. With healthy boundaries in place, your kids might connect again. But they also might not. Sometimes siblings go through phases when they need more space and independence. Consider planning some family activities that are novel or exciting. This could be as simple as an impromptu movie night or as extensive as a road trip to a place you've never been. Whatever you choose, it will give your kids something to do and something to talk about — even if that's being annoyed with you for taking their phones and forcing family game night. Final PSA: please monitor your kids' social media accounts. It can be a rough world to navigate without your guidance.