Bikinis, Instagram, and Other Fun Stuff {Hard Conversations with Your Middle Schooler}

#selfie_edited-1“But, Mom, I really don’t understand what the big deal is.” And so began our discussion about swimsuits in specific and modesty in general.

But this isn’t a post about modesty. Or the appropriateness of bikinis, tankinis, or one pieces. This is a post about the things I’m learning as the mom of a middle school girl. As our conversation teetered on the edge of another disastrous blow out, I realized that talking through hard issues is… well, hard.

Truth be told, I feel like I’m becoming an expert in hard conversations. Because, we’ve had a number of them this year. We’ve talked about dating and friend choices and social media, to name a few of the biggies.

Sometimes it wears me out. During this particular conversation about bathing suits and modesty, I realized several things that are helping to shape the way I approach these hard topics.

1. I need to listen. Like really listen – to the issue behind the issue. Madison’s push-back regarding bikinis wasn’t really about bikinis. It looked like a discussion about bathing suits. It felt like a discussion about bathing suits. But, it was actually a discussion about fitting-in.

Part of my job as a middle school mom is to know my daughter and to try to understand the things that impact her. This takes time, energy, and intentional effort. Effort that I don’t always want to give, to be honest. But being a mom means sacrifice. My time in this phase of parenting is not so much consumed with potty training and a bedtime routine that works, like it was 10 years ago. Instead, it’s consumed with a lot of listening and talking through character-shaping issues.

2. I need to adjust my expectations. Because my kids are very mature for their age and are both good thinkers/articulators, I often expect them to act like adults. I assume they know and understand things that are actually beyond them – either because of their developmental stage or because they just haven’t really ever thought it through before.

It might surprise you to learn that the ability to reason and think in principles is actually a developmental process. For example, when you tell your three-year-old not to kick his sister, he does not naturally have the ability to take that principle and apply it to hitting, etc. Moral development is a process that grows with time and catalysts. As a parent, it is my job to help be one of those catalysts… not to get mad because my kids are acting immature!

3. I need to walk a mile in her flip flops. Middle school is hard. Peer pressure is real and social expectations are demanding. It might seem silly to me that she cares so much about a classmate’s Instagram photo at the beach but I need to remember that it’s her world. And, let’s be honest, I have my own social pressures that I cave in to. It shouldn’t be so hard for me to understand what she is feeling.

4. I need to be careful to cling to what is important, not just what I have always thought. When Madison started pressing me on the whole bikini issue, I wanted to dig-in and hold to my position. Which might actually be legit, of course. But I just need to be careful that I understand why I’m holding the line. Is it because I am embracing a false dichotomy, tradition or opinion? Or is it because there is a moral issue here that I believe I must stick to: for her good, or the good of others, or because God’s Word says so? Sometimes we cloak our personal opinions or preferences in God’s Word, turning them into legalisms. As parents we can certainly have preferences and require our children to adhere to them. We just need to be honest with ourselves and clear with our kids about which ones are Biblical and which ones are preference.

5. I need to remember that good questions are not necessarily signs of rebellion. Madison had some legitimate questions about modesty. At first, I didn’t like them. Maybe they made me feel threatened. Maybe she asked them disrespectfully. I suspect it was a little bit of both. But, as we talked it out, I was able to coach her on how to push-back while still honoring mom.


I’m not going to lie. There are days I do these things well and days that I don’t. The days that I don’t, aren’t pretty. And, sometimes even when I do, it still isn’t pretty because her heart is the stubborn one. But, this is the first time I’ve ever been a mom to a middle school girl and I don’t do it perfectly. Because of God’s mercy and grace, I’m OK with that. I’m trusting Him to fill in the gaps where I fall short and to use all of those opportunities to force us both to lean into His grace. I’m praying that Madison and I are being conformed to the image of Christ through the process of each hard interaction. Typing these five reminders was actually a great reminder for me and a great catalyst for some prayer. I hope it does the same for you.

And, let’s not forget that having a middle school daughter is not ALL hard conversations. It’s also a lot of fun. As is evidenced by the plethora of unflattering mother-daughter #selfies we now possess. {wink}

Grace and peace for your middle school mothering,

@In a Mirror Dimly



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  1. says

    Great post! I have two teenaged daughters and I find the talking, arguing, and discussing of parenting this stage quite exhausting. But every so often there are glimmers of maturity, of pennies dropping, of understanding. Thanks for the reminder to distinguish between preferences and biblical morals, I think this is the biggest thing for me to learn. And for that I need to be sticking more closely to God’s Word, so I can really tell the difference.

    • says

      Oh thanks, Fiona! There’s so much support for moms of littles… we moms of teenagers need to help each other out! I have two now too… our oldest is our son and that was different in some ways. It IS a tiring phase, isn’t it?!? I’m praying for you right now – for grace as you mother your girls.

  2. Jennifer says

    This article perfectly articulates the layers of thinking that go behind parenting. Shannon your teens are so blessed to have such a thoughtful parent who makes strides to ameliorate those situations.

    Loved this article!

  3. Saralyn says

    Gosh, Shan, this makes me smile at the providence of God. Remember when we were middle schoolers? I think we all desperately wanted to fit in, and at the same time felt so isolated and in competition with one another. I don’t ever remember having heart talks. We had heart-to-heart talks, but not discussions about God’s love and grace for His children and finding our identity in the one Who gave everything to make us “fit in” with Him. There was a lot of talk about white knuckling it and choosing to do what was right, but the concept of union with Christ was missing. I am so glad God has taken the seeds that were planted, no matter how incomplete the message, and guard them and grow them in two insecure girls from small town Ohio. We have an awesome God.

  4. valerie says

    Thank you so much for this post – it is exactly what I needed to hear. My daughter just finished middle school (I have a son just starting), but I think these same principles apply to the high school years too. You’re right – there IS so much support for moms of littles, and having been there done that, for me at least, this stage is so much harder!

    • says

      Thanks Valerie. It IS a tough stage at times. There are many things I love about it – like having real conversations and enjoying their sense of humor and not having to dress them, etc. But, it can be emotionally exhausting. I’m going to take a sec to pray for you too as you love on your teens.

  5. rebecca says

    This is interesting . I was pondering a related issue this morning after dropping my 11 year old off at his first away camp. We have five boys aged 15-5. The one dropped today is the middle of the five. I cried because it hit me how quickly it goes by.
    My oldest is a very insecure personality while the middle is extremely secure and laid back. My oldest struggles with self esteem and fitting in, while the middle one has great self awareness and is easily able to stand up to peer pressure.
    I began to think about how we as Christians are to be more concerned with God’s view of us and less concerned with the world’s opinion of us. Yet , as a teen it is so hard to have that perspective. I would say it is even harder now with social media than it was when I grew up without that pressure.
    I decided I would try an exercise with my oldest son to give him a bit of perspective when it comes to how important his peers opinions are to him and his life in the long run.
    I will ask him to list the names of the children who were in each of his previous grades. Ask him to then list which of those were his close friends in those previous grades. Ask him to then think back on the kids who may not have liked him. (you can probably see where this is going) I will ask him how important today are the opinions of those kids who may not have liked him. Talk about maybe some of the kids that previously he considered to be good friends but maybe aren’t any longer. Ask how important today are those kids opinion of him in his life today.
    I will then have him look up verses about how God views him. I hope that this may help him to see a little bit of the bigger picture.

    • says

      Yes, Rebecca! Soaking their minds in the truth of our position in Christ IS the key to all of it. As we listen and coach and love on them, their position in Christ is paramount to highlight. Great idea too on the exercise about their peers. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Shelly says

    Hi Shannon, Thanks so much for your perspective! My daughter is 16, and we are in the midst of her growing, spreading her wings and getting ready to leave the nest. We are daily working on her push-back attitude and how to do that and still be respectful. I need to remember that she wants to be respectful!!

  7. Michelle says

    I am the mom of 2 young teens, 13 and 14 and have recently had the “bikini” conversation with my girls. I feel like they hear me about the reasons I do not want them to wear bikinis just yet; however, I think they still feel that I am being ridiculous. I just can not concede on this issue. Just wondering how others feel about the bikini issue and why?

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