My 12-year-old and I were on our way to a meeting at her new school when she asked, “Is there anything good about middle school?”
Her question made me laugh. The rumors about the horrors of middle school are apparently still flying around, all these years after I attended middle school.
“Of course!” I answered, “You’ll meet new friends, have more freedom, and you won’t be stuck with the same teacher all day long.”
That night when I went to bed, I began to think about how the upcoming months will bring a new season in life for my youngest child. Middle school marks the transition from childhood to adulthood. And that road is full of discovery, change, and unfortunately, doubt. I thought back to my own middle school days and what I wish I’d known then.
What I Want My Daughter to Know about Middle School:
1. You do fit in.
Even if you don’t know it yet, even though you might not know it until high school or college, you belong in this world. It may take time, but eventually you’ll find your tribe. Meanwhile be yourself, be kind, and don’t give up.
2. You’re smart, really smart.
Don’t let the fact that you failed your history quiz, or screwed up your band solo, or forgot your locker combination make you think otherwise. Your body is changing at a fast rate and hormones cause us to do and act a little crazy sometimes. Just work hard and believe in yourself. You’re going to make it in this world.
3. Yes, there are mean girls.
They are mean because inside they feel even worse about themselves than you do. Treating others like dirt is how they deal with it. Be kind, but stay away. You don’t need them in your life no matter how popular they are.
4. Yes, boys should make you nervous.
Just like girls, not all boys are nice. Some will ask you to do or be something you aren’t comfortable with. Unfortunately, these boys are usually cute and that makes it hard. The good ones never ask you to be anything but who you already are. If your gut is telling you not to do it, pay attention. (See number 9.)
5. Here’s a secret: Your teachers don’t know everything.
You will have some great teachers who will build you up and you will remember them forever. But you will also have a couple of burned-out, grumpy teachers who may not realize how capable you are. It’s not fair, but the world is full of grumpy people. This is your first lesson in dealing with them.
6. You’re going to need to be brave.
Middle school is a great time to discover more about yourself. Enjoy singing? Join the choir. Think basketball is your thing? Try out for the team, even if you don’t make it. Love trivia? Sign up for the Quiz Bowl team. It will be scary, and sometimes you will fail, but you will never regret trying.
7. Yes, there is drama—lots of it.
Middle school is filled with gossip. Everyone is trying to fit in and this leads to talking about and judging others. It will be tempting to join in, but try hard not to participate. And never, ever be a bully. Your words leave a permanent mark on others.
8. You aren’t the only one whose mom makes them go to church.
Hold on to your faith, tightly. It is not a thing to feel embarrassed about. It is a part of you and does not make you un-cool. What’s cool is standing up for yourself. You’ll have friends of other faiths, and some who don’t believe in anything at all. That’s okay, just be kind and accepting.
9. Pay attention to that feeling you have in your gut.
It’s your physical guide that will help you in those moments when you feel swayed to go another way. Looking back on my own life, this was the one thing that saved me from some very big mistakes.
10. Trust me, it is going to get better.
There is a reason everyone talks about middle school the way they do. It’s a time of highs and lows. One day you feel great and the next your world feels like it is crashing in. It’s normal and your friends are feeling it too. Just ride the wave and you’ll get through. Trust me, you have many beautiful, happy days ahead.
I would love to share these nuggets of wisdom with my daughter, but I don’t think she would believe me right now. Like most of us, she will gain most of her wisdom and confidence through her experiences. We have many car rides together ahead of us though. So maybe, just maybe, she and I will find a way to navigate her middle school years together.