Understanding the middle school brain




Posted on August 27, 2012 at 11:09 AM

Updated Thursday, Dec 5 at 4:47 PM

GARLAND — Middle school might be the most awkward time in anyone's life. Hormones begin to rage and bodies begin to change. These youngsters are not really kids, yet they are far from adults. So how should a parent handle things?

On Monday, 12-year-old Gabriel Anguiano was beside his pool, soaking up summer's last lazy days.

"It kind of feels like impending doom," he said, laughing. "I am going to be happy to go back to school, I guess... well, a small part of me."

On Wednesday, the "impending doom" he dreaded became his reality. The Anguiano family let News 8 peek into the brain of this 7th grader, keeping a day-long video diary from Gabriel's breakfast and brushing teeth to the ride to school, to the pickup after school, to bedtime.

There were no pre-teen tantrums on this day, but there was a bit of sarcasm.

"I don't think you're taking my questions seriously!" said Gabriel's father Rudy. "Mmmmm... really?" Gabriel responded with a giggle and a smirk.

"How was your day?" Rudy asked. "Fine," Gabriel answered.

The word "fine" is important to pick up on, according to Max Nelson, Clinical Supervisor at Seay Behavioral Health Center, located on the Texas Health Plano campus.

"When you hear the famous words of 'whatever' or 'nothing' or 'fine,' that's an invitation for conversation," Nelson said. "When a middle school student uses those words, what they're saying is" 'I don't have a way to describe it to you; I need you to stay with me a little longer to help me get it.'"

Nelson has been counseling families for 22 years. He says kids in middle school often can't verbalize when things are going wrong. They want — and need — help explaining what's happening inside them. Nelson says don't ignore it.

Doctors also say parents shouldn't ignore a meltdown, even if the topic seems totally trivial.

"As a parent, you have to realize that their crisis is a true crisis," said Baylor-Health physician Dr. Jane Sadler of the Family Medical Center at North Garland. "When they have an urgent need, I would suggest as a parent that you attend to it, because otherwise they're going to come to me as their doctor and tell me, 'My mother doesn't listen to me.'"

Doctors say pre-teens live in the moment and cannot comprehend that what seems to constitute an emergency now will be minuscule in minutes.

Gabriel seems to be an exception. He is an academically smart, socially mature young man who is wise enough to not worry about other people's opinions.

"It really shouldn't matter," he said. "I mean, popularity influences so much."

Experts say during the turbulent pre-teen times, parents should take cues from the Anguiano family: Talk, listen, and be patient but firm.

E-mail twoodard@wfaa.com