If you believe many of the books and movies about middle school, you’re likely terrified about your kid starting sixth grade. Pop culture has painted middle school as a metaphorical torture chamber, a soul-crushing place that will steal any self-esteem your child may have had.
Okay, so maybe there is a kernel of truth to the idea that middle school can be scary. Yes, it is a time of transition, and most kids do undergo some painful adolescent experiences like losing an important friendship, feeling left out, and fearing they’ll never fit in. I’ve heard stories from other mom friends and from my own kids about negative experiences, so I get that middle school is not always an idyllic time in the life of our kids.
I probably wouldn’t choose to go back to my own middle school years, but I also think middle school gets more of a bad rap that it deserves. Middle school can be fun, for both the kids and the parents.
My daughters are rising ninth and seventh graders. For them, middle school has been an overwhelmingly positive experience so far, and as their mom, I’ve enjoyed the time, too.
The Best Parts Of Middle School
According to my middle schoolers, this is what makes middle school great:
1. Students get to change classes.
Staying in one class all day can get old. My kids appreciate that they get to switch teachers and subjects every hour and a half.
2. Kids have more independence.
In elementary school, kids have to follow many of the same procedures whether they are kindergarteners or fifth-graders. Getting to walk from class to class on their own instead of in line as a group is a big deal for kids this age. It gives them a sense of autonomy and enables them to interact with friends between classes.
3. There are lots of different kids.
After six years of the same kids in elementary school, it’s been refreshing for my kids to make new friends. When a kid has a squabble with one friend—which inevitably happens in middle school—there are other groups they can talk to or eat lunch with. Interacting with new peers also helps kids figure out who they are. I may not love every friendship my kids develop in middle school, but I also know some of those friendships are short-lived, and they play an important role in helping my kids become more self-aware.
4. Most of the kids are going through the same changes.
It can be hard for kids to experience puberty in elementary school when not everyone is on the same schedule developmentally. By the time they’re in middle school, though, almost all of their peers are experiencing the same physical and emotional changes. There’s comfort in that.
5. The academic stakes are still pretty low.
As a parent, I like that the academic stakes in middle school are still pretty low. Middle school offers a great opportunity for kids to learn how to manage schedules and develop a work ethic before they need to worry too much about the long-term impact of their mistakes.
How to Have a Good Middle School Experience
Middle school has its advantages. But what we get out of it depends on what we put into it. According to my middle schoolers, this is what makes middle school great:
1. Participate in any preparation programs available.
My daughters’ school hosts events to help kids prepare for middle school, including a one-week camp with team-building activities and lessons on opening lockers and getting to classes. Taking advantage of these opportunities helps build confidence. If your school doesn’t offer these kinds of activities, connect with neighborhood students who can provide necessary insider info.
2. Be nice to everyone.
As my girls explain, if you’re nice to everyone, you’ll make friends. Not everyone will be nice back, but at least some kids will be. And that’s how you find your tribe.
3. Remember that other students are also feeling nervous and unsure.
Some kids may seem like they’ve got it all figured out, but they are likely just as nervous as everyone else. And that’s another reason to be nice to them.
4. Most importantly, be yourself.
My daughters tell me that the only way to make genuine friends is to be true to yourself and confident in who you are. For them, making good friends has been one of the best parts of middle school.