Navigating Middle School Relationships

Apr 25, 2024

Middle school can be a tumultuous time for your child, especially when it comes to navigating relationships. As they begin to explore friendships, crushes, and budding romantic interests, it's important for parents to provide guidance and support to create healthy relationships.

Middle school provides a unique new developmental milestone of forming relationships on a deeper level, but also more of a personal choice as friendships are no longer formed simply on whose class you are in. This often leads children to hold these relationships with more value, but this can lead to feelings of jealousy, exclusivity within the friend group or relationships, and the potential for increased hurt when there is conflict.

This period of development is also marked by taking more risks in attempting to develop new relationships and experiencing new emotions due to the ‘help’ of raging hormones. Due to brain development still being a very active process (with their brains not being fully mature until early to mid 20s), they lack the world experience and skills to think through all of their actions before moving forward or keeping all of their thoughts to themselves. Our children are also trying to manage changes in their body, being significantly more aware of others, and navigating social pressures and embarrassment. While mistakes will definitely be made, and parents should expect some from our children, we can still support them during this time to focus on being kind and respectful.

Here are some tips and conversation starters to help you navigate the tricky waters of middle school relationships with your children:

  1. **Emphasize the Importance of Healthy Relationships**: Start by discussing what healthy relationships look like. Ask your children what qualities they value in a friend. Encourage open communication and mutual respect.

        Conversation starters:

  • "What do you think makes a friendship strong and healthy?"
  • “Think about your current closest friend, how do they make you feel?”
  • “Can you have different opinions and still be friends?”
  • “If your friend thinks or feels differently and it makes you upset, how do you think that would impact your friendship?”
  • “Even if you are not friends with someone, how do you think we should treat others?”


  1. **Avoiding Drama**: Middle school often comes with its fair share of drama. Help your children understand the difference between healthy conflict resolution and unnecessary drama. Encourage them to surround themselves with friends who uplift and support them.

             Conversation starters:

  • "Have you ever experienced a situation where you felt caught up in drama? How did you handle it?"
  • “How can you respond to someone if they start gossiping?” (Tips: They can walk away, stay quiet, or state “I’m not going to talk about someone if they aren’t here”). Discuss with your child what they should do if they hear rumors. We like the phrase “If it’s not your news to share, don’t share it.”
  • “When you get into an argument or disagreement, how do you think you can resolve it?”
  • Talk with your child about thinking through their actions *BEFORE* they act on them. They should ask themselves: ‘Before I say something or post something, would I want my parents and/or teachers to hear what I have said/posted?”
  1. **Identifying Warning Signs**: Teach your children to recognize warning signs of negative relationships, such as manipulation, jealousy, or controlling behavior. Emphasize the importance of setting boundaries and seeking help if they feel uncomfortable or unsafe.

     Conversation starters:

  • "Can you think of any behaviors in a friend that might be a red flag?"
  • “Has anyone ever asked you to do something that made you feel uncomfortable?”
  • “Have you ever seen someone being teased or bullied? How did that make you feel?”
  • “Have you ever had a friend pressure you into a decision?”
  • “If you are afraid they will no longer be your friend unless you act in a certain way, are they truly valuing you and your friendship?”

    4. **Encourage Open Communication**: Let your children know that they can always come to you with questions or concerns about relationships. Create a safe space for them to share their experiences without fear of judgment – remember, we want them to keep talking to us to get good advice!

         Conversation starters:

  • "Do you ever feel unsure about how to handle a situation with a friend or crush? I'm here to listen and help if you need it."
  • “Do you feel like you are able to share your thoughts and feelings with your friends?”
  • Reflect on a time in which you as a parent experienced difficulty when younger and share with your child how you handled it.

    5. **Seeking Help**: Make sure your children know where to turn if they need support. Whether it is talking to a parent, trusted adult, teacher, or school counselor, reassure them that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

    Conversation starters:
  • "Do you know who you can talk to if you ever feel overwhelmed or confused about a relationship?"
  • “Who can you tell at school if you think someone is being bullied?”
  • “How could you provide support to a friend?”
  • “If your friend told you to keep something a secret, but they were being hurt or going to hurt themselves, what do you think you should do?” (This is when you as the parent need to emphasize this is an important time to break confidentiality so we can keep our friends safe)

If your child is currently experiencing difficulty, try to foster healthier friendships by offering to host get-togethers and build new friendships. The relationship between you as the parent and your child is also incredibly important and a great support to help your child persevere past any current drama. Research actually shows that a strong parent child relationship is the most important factor in lifelong mental health and life satisfaction!

Keep in mind, this is not a “one and done” type of conversation, but something to discuss regularly (maybe a few times per year) as friendships will begin and end throughout the next few years.

By fostering open communication and providing guidance, you can help your children navigate the ups and downs of middle school relationships with confidence and resilience. Remember to lead by example and demonstrate healthy relationship dynamics in your own interactions. Together, we can empower our children to build positive and fulfilling relationships as they grow and learn.

~Dr. Mortimer

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