My youngest child is finishing up middle school this year and moving on to high school. I have to say that I couldn’t be happier. Overall, middle school has been my least favorite parenting experience. And it was my least favorite childhood experience, as well. Middle school is the time when children are forming their own identities away from their parents, moving into cliques, discovering what they might like to do, what they are good at, and realizing that they can project the things they don’t like in themselves onto others.
When my oldest entered our town’s middle school, I distinctly remember sitting in a parent meeting in the cafeteria with a large group of parents. The principal stood on stage giving her spiel, and finally, she proudly stated, “There is NO bullying in our school. None.” And then she turned to the students she had coerced to be on stage with her and said, “Isn’t that right, students?” To which they all nodded, looking like deer in headlights.
As a teacher, a parent, and a long-ago middle-school student, I remember thinking that principal must have buried her head so deeply in the sands of self-created utopia that she had no idea what was happening in the halls she walked each day. And in fact, I was correct.
There was plenty of bullying at our middle school. But there was also much opportunity for growth. Middle schools are tough places, and so I offer some thoughts to help prepare for this experience.
1. You will not find “your people” in middle school. There will be a lot of people there, but they might not be people that you want to hang out with. They might not even be people you like. Don’t be discouraged. You are more likely to find them your people high school, but you might not find them until college. You will eventually find people with whom you have much in common.
2. Don’t work on being popular. From my experience, middle school popularity (even high school popularity) is fleeting. The people who are popular now will find themselves in amongst people who are older and smarter and more popular than they are, and they won’t know how to fit themselves in with those people. Besides, the focus on popularity holds you back from true success in life.
3. Those people who look like they have it all together? The people who don’t accept you because you don’t play a sport or you don’t live in the right part of town? They are just as insecure as everyone else. If someone doesn’t accept you, that is a reflection on who they are, not who you are.
4. Middle school is just a brief period of time. I know it may seem like it lasts forever, but it will be over before you know it. Keep your focus on your school work and on developing the best you that you can be, and you will come out stronger and more amazing than when you started. You are enough, and you are exactly what this world needs. Develop your talents and figure out who you are becoming.
I am quite happy that we are reaching the end of our middle school experience. For all of you who are not, I wish you the best of luck. Remember: this too shall pass.