Recently I found the most hilarious thing — a diary I kept when I was in 8th grade!
It’s the only year I ever remember keeping a diary. Re-reading it made me laugh uproariously. Particularly because I have 2 granddaughters who are in 8th grade, and this helped me see that we’re so very much alike in our experiences — even though separated by decades.
The world my granddaughters are growing up in is vastly different than the world in which I grew up.
THEN: Computers were an unknown; TV was new and with mostly innocent shows like “Leave it to Beaver” and “The Lone Ranger.” We spent more time outside than in front of screens. You had to read actual books and write your own papers. Artificial intelligence was unheard of.
Couples tended to stay married. Faith was normative and ‘political correctness’ an unknown term. Travel was less of an option, money tighter for most, and family members tended to live closer to each other. Our options were fewer.
Life wasn’t perfect. We experienced wars, racism, political fools, and disease. Every generation reveals our inborn capacity for evil.
NOW: Our kids’ lives are greatly influenced by social media. More time is spent on devices. Eating disorders, broken families, pornography, drugs, and nearly weekly shootings present great challenges to the young as well as to their parents.
There are many more options for our kids in how to spend their time and our resources! Parents find themselves living in their cars as they race from one child’s commitment to another. The pressure to succeed or raise successful kids has become overwhelming.
In reading my diary I was surprised how similar I was to my 8th grade granddaughters!
Here are a few excerpts found in my old diary:
It was hard to get back to school today. George wasn’t very nice when I asked him to come over and help me put up the basketball goal. It hurt my feelings.”
“This was the worst day of my life. I found out my basketball team was to go out of town to play in a night game, but Mom and Dad wouldn’t let me go because it’s a school night.”
“We have an algebra test tomorrow. I’ve gotta make good on it! Nothing much happened today. Linda and I are real pals now and don’t like Becky. She’s bossy and conceited.”
“We (UNC) beat Wake Forest 83-74!”
“I’m afraid I’m beginning to like Jimmy but I don’t want to because I really hate him.”
“She’s not my best friend any more.”
“I am a failure. Lisa’s party wasn’t much fun. I danced with George, Butch, Glen, Jimmy, Doug at the beginning but then I stood for the rest of the night. I am a complete failure. I must remember that popularity isn’t everything.”
“We won our basketball game 35-20. I played the whole game and scored 8 points!”
“I miss Jim. He’s moved away. I wish he could have seen me without my glasses and with my curly hair, then I wouldn’t be so ugly.”
“I had a terrible time in Algebra with Mrs. Morrow and had to stay in for her. She doesn’t like the way I smile. She says I look like a horse eating briars! She told me to stop smiling and take algebra seriously. I said, ‘What do you want me to do, cry over it?’ She got real mad and said she was gonna call Dad. I said that’s fine. Boy I’d like to see her standup to my father!”
I am still laughing as I read my old diary.
Three things stand out to me about being 14, then and now:
- Girls change best friends regularly and are mean to one another.
- What boy you like (or intensely dislike) can change daily.
- You are often passionate about something. (For me, it was sports).
One word is helpful for us parents to remember: PERSPECTIVE.
At this age our girls lack perspective. Perspective comes with age and experience!
My friend’s grandson who is now 17 recently called a family meeting to say,
I have an apology to make, I’m sorry I was ever 14!”
Amazing perspective for a 17-year-old.
It’s hard for us parents to watch our kids struggle. We must remember, they are young.
Three things will help us navigate these rough middle school years.
1. Distinguish between crucial issues and swing issues.
Crucial issues are those issues that have to do with character: integrity, compassion, responsibility, self-discipline, respect. Crucial issues are also those issues on which the Bible has clear teaching: sex outside of marriage, murder, stealing, etc.
Consider the crucial issues as nonnegotiable. Lying isn’t tolerated. It’s nonnegotiable.
Swing issues, on the other hand, aren’t so cut and dried. Nose rings, blue hair, tattoos, messy rooms, moodiness. It helps to be very firm in the early years of child raising and then begin to loosen up as you hit the teen years. Too often parents coddle young children to keep them happy and then come down hard in the teen years. This is ineffective.
2. Expose your young teens to people unlike themselves.
Most teenagers are self-centered, and American teenagers have no idea how good they have it. Their natural self-focus can lead to dissatisfaction and depression.
One of the best things a parent can do is provide opportunities for your child to spend time with sharp older believers. A young teen will be more likely to listen to a believing college student or young adult who talks with them than to a mom or dad. Send your kids to Christian camps and conferences. (Scholarships are usually available).
Give them opportunities to serve. Serving others who are less fortunate will give them perspective. My two eight grade granddaughters are spending a week with their aunt this summer at a camp called Hope Heals serving and learning from families affected by disabilities.
I can’t wait to see the fresh perspective this exposure and service will bring into their lives.
3. Laugh a lot.
When I was in about 8th grade, I remember bursting into tears with my mother: “I am not pretty. I am too tall and too awkward. I am not popular. I’ll never be popular.” My wise mother did not overreact, she merely hugged me and said, “Your Dad and I think you are beautiful, and one day your turn will come.”
Sometimes what a distraught young teen needs most is a light-hearted parent. A parent who does not panic. A parent who knows how to use laughter to bring perspective to a situation. We all need to learn to laugh at ourselves.
I probably did look like a horse eating briars, and I’m sure I drove my family crazy. After all, I was in 8th grade!
You may also want to read:
- Sibling Rivalry in the Tweens and Teens
- Encouragement for the Season of Parenting Teens
- And Then I Had Teenagers