A Three-Point Plan for Parenting Middle Schoolers

Do you have middle schoolers? Are you wondering how to manage these years?

As of today, I have five teens and one pre-teen (plus five young adults). I love teens, they’re interesting, fun to be with, and their worlds are exploding with opportunity. They also need a lot of guidance.

Middle school is a time when kids experience startlingly rapid physical and mental growth. Just yesterday one of my sons called me from the pool and his voice was so deep I couldn’t believe it was him.

Their peers are going through the same process, but my kids, and many of yours, have the added complexity of being adoptees. As kids mature they ask different questions about their stories and ponder the complexities of being separated from their first families. They may wonder, “How did I end up in this family?”

Adoption is always part of their world. Recently my son found an Ethiopian coin and said, “I wonder if this is the exact amount of money my Ethiopian mom needs right now.”

Like mine, some of your teens have an extra layer of not only being adopted but growing up as young black teens in white families. Digging deeper into racial issues and learning from people of color must be added to our parenting plates.

I suggest we focus on three simple things with our middle schoolers:

1. Take every opportunity to connect.

  • feed them – for me, this means making breakfast on school mornings and having substantial snacks after sports practices and games
  • maintain traditions, like Friday pizza night
  • welcome their friends to our home
  • create special moments, like a breakfast date before school
  • be fully present – I need to put my work away before they get home from school
  • gather for family dinner as many nights as possible
  • maintain a variation of your bedtime routines even if they seem too old
  • pause to really listen – put your phone away if that helps (it helps me)
  • in terms of adoption issues, be sensitive, answer questions honestly, and try not to take anything personally

2. Support them as they explore their interests.

  • understand their need to expend energy and develop their interests – my boys need lots of physical activity
  • sports offer structured, supervised time with other adults and peers
  • for kids not into athletics, there are many other activities like Lego Robotics, Boy Scouts, 4H, music, and many clubs
  • youth group – my guys are both old enough now to attend middle school youth group at our church
  • look for opportunities for them to work and earn money to gain financial responsibility
  • support them academically – we’re instituting homework time at the table after dinner

3. Pray

  • I don’t say this lightly; for people of faith, prayer is essential
  • recognize that our teens are facing situations at school we didn’t even imagine when we were teens
  • technology deeply impacts their world, put safeguards where we can
  • but – we can’t shield them from everything; encourage open conversations and trust God
  • remember that prayer is far better worrying
  • pray with them (and over them) before they leave for school and encourage them to pray too

I’m reminded of this quote:

 God acts when we pray and often does more in seconds than we could do in hours or weeks or sometimes years.  John Piper

Take every opportunity to connect, Fill their lives with positive activities, and Pray.

Have a great week, friend.

With courage and hope,


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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.


  1. Michele
    August 15, 2018

    Thanks Lisa – what an encouraging post and filled with great steps! So many things to navigate with teens – especially those extra complexities of adoption and different race thrown in the mix. When I was a young mom and parenting my step-kids who were all teens I was so ill prepared for how to parent them well. I feel so much more prepared my last group of kids through the MS/HS years – with a huge reliance on PRAYER! Thank goodness for all the grace that brought me and my step kids through all the mistakes I made as a young parent.

    1. Lisa Qualls
      August 16, 2018

      Parenting my youngest is so different from my older crew! I’m definitely relying on grace, prayer, and just like with my big kids, seeking connection.


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