Those growing piles in their bedrooms are where our kids bury growing pains

October 21, 1997|By SUSAN REIMER

WHEN SURVEYED BY the authors of a comprehensive guide for the care and feeding of middle-schoolers, 60 percent of parents said "a messy bedroom" was the biggest area of conflict between them and their children.

Parents listed it ahead of mouthing off. Ahead of homework. Ahead of friends, curfews and inappropriate clothing choices. Ahead of loud music and the phone. Ahead of junk food and TV.

On the list of great battles fought by parents and their 10- to 15-year-olds, the bloodiest ones take place over the landfill where the kids sleep.

"I think we were both surprised by that result, but maybe we shouldn't have been," said Charlene Giannetti. "After all, a messy bedroom is pretty hard to ignore."

Giannetti and Margaret Sagarese are co-authors of "The Roller-Coaster Years: Raising Your Child Through the Maddening Yet Magical Middle School Years."

It is a compendium of common problems, common sense and expert advice on the misunderstood developmental stage that comes between smooth cheeks and a driver's license. But it is written without the exasperation we all feel toward children of this mercurial age.

It is written with love and affection.

"We were concerned that there was nothing written about this age group other than the negative comments we all make," says Sagarese, the mother of a 10-year-old girl. "They are moody and miserable. It makes for Rip Van Winkle parenting: 'Wake me when it's over.'

"We looked forward to their next developmental stage when they were younger. We figured there must be something to look forward to about this age."

From this search for the good in middle-schoolers comes a positive spin on the pig-sty bedroom.

"They have one foot in childhood and another in adulthood and they have stuff from each life," says Sagarese from her Long Island, N.Y., home. That explains the Barbie debris and the nail polish. The soccer cleats and the pantyhose. The Legos and the boxer shorts.

All of it piled on the floor.

"Instead of looking at the room as a pig sty, look at it as a reflection of who they are becoming. You are seeing them change from childhood to adolescence," says Sagarese.

She describes the middle-schooler's bedroom as a cocoon where they grow, a sanctuary where they sort out what interests them, a place where they work on who they will become.

It just looks like a pig sty.

"Middlers," as the authors call 10- to 15-year-olds, are collectors. But they are also disorganized and easily distracted by the next bright object. These qualities do not make for tidy bedrooms, but they help explain why the walls of your daughter's room are covered by pictures of Pooh and Tigger one day and Michael Jordan the next. Their likes and dislikes change rapidly and the stuff piles up.

More important -- there is a reason why they don't throw anything away. They are lazy and messy, but that is not the reason. If you go into their rooms with an angry face and a garbage can, you might as well ask them to dump part of themselves into it because that is what all the junk around them represents.

That is why they don't throw things away. That's why they don't pass things down to a younger sibling. It is still part of who they are. Your junk is their memento.

"Be the anthropologist. Study your child and see what your child is interested in," says Giannetti, whose 14-year-old boy is apparently interested in guitar, sports and his computer because that is the stuff that is all over the floor in his room.

That's just fine until the health department pays a call. At some point, personal discovery has to take a back seat to personal hygiene.

The authors offer these tips:

Plan a shopping trip to purchase the accessories your child needs to help her organize her possessions.

When you want the room cleaned, assume that they don't understand what you mean by clean. Define it: dirty clothes in the hamper, food in the trash can, rug vacuumed, bed made.

"This is a trying age," says Sagarese. "But it is a misunderstood age. We need to find the same joy and sense of discovery we had when they were our infants."

And, I guess, apply that joy to what we discover under the bed.

Pub Date: 10/21/97

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