Some of us reflect back on our middle school years as a time that we would be better off forgetting. There is awkwardness, embarrassment, hurt, and betrayal by peers—obviously everyone’s experience is different, but those feelings are typical of average middle school students.
This critical time in a child’s development can be a crossroads for how a child will learn to deal with relationships, approach schoolwork and academics, cultivate self-confidence, and more.
Parents and educators should be cognizant of the challenges middle school students face and use discernment with their interactions and educational strategies. For middle schoolers themselves, here are a few dos and don’ts addressed to them directly to help them navigate this season in their lives.
Love Your Growing Body – Your body will be going through some pretty dramatic changes. The reflection you see in the mirror will be ever-changing and developing. There may be changes you like and others you don’t. You may see others in your school and wish you looked like them—and having to now change in the gym locker room certainly does not help with that. What you must focus on, though, is that your body is a work in progress at this stage, and no matter how perfect some other students may seem, their body is going through the same things as yours.
[Tweet “You are not alone, and you are not flawed.”]
Get to Know the School – Especially prior to your first year in middle school, familiarize yourself with the layout of the school. Walk the halls and identify where all your classes are located. Find the restrooms and plan your routes from class to class. Every year, test out your locker. A jammed locker can ruin your day, so practice opening and locking it to make sure everything is working properly. If your school offers a day to meet with your teachers, take advantage of this, introduce yourself, and ask how you can plan to do well in their classes.
Make Smart Health Choices – You will find that the changes to your body will require new hygiene practices. You will have to shower more often and use deodorant, among many other more personal health changes. The days of eating whatever you want with no consequences are also about to end. You need to start paying attention to what you eat, as certain foods will directly impact your energy levels, acne, weight gain, and concentration at school. Stay active—the stronger you get, the less clumsy you will feel during gym class.
Be Confident in Yourself – Bullying has always been a problem, and unfortunately, likely always will be. The best way to fight bullying is to not allow it to defeat or discourage you. Bullies want to make themselves feel better by making you feel worse. If they can’t make you feel worse, then they lose. Walk through those middle school hallways with your head held high. You are indeed different from everyone in the school, because you are an individual with your own interests, talents, and personality. The fact is that every single student in your school is unique, and that is to be celebrated not shamed.
[Tweet “You are created uniquely—embrace that and own it.”]
Revert to Being Antisocial – Walking the halls with older or more popular kids can feel intimidating. Fight the urge to shrink and hide away and instead be assertive in saying hello to kids in your classes. Look for things they say or do that may be something you have in common, and then use that as your way to begin talking with them. Join school clubs or extracurricular activities which will help give you a circle of friends. You will have a much more enjoyable middle school experience if you don’t go it alone!
Obsess over Social Media – It is definitely true that we live in a time where most of us are connected to some form of social media and check it daily. Particularly for middle school students, social media can be used as yet another platform for cliques, bullying, and popularity contests. There is enough of that going on while at school, so don’t bring that into your after-school hours, as well. If you find yourself obsessing over the latest snap or tweet, it may be time to take a step back and disconnect. Life is going on all around you, so don’t feel pressured to spend your life with your fingers on your phone.
Be Late and Unorganized – Middle school is a transition from elementary to high school, so your academic workload will increase. Resist the temptation to socialize in the halls to the point of making you late for class—save your chats for appropriate times. As far as homework, do whatever works best for you to keep yourself organized and on track. Writing it down on a calendar, setting reminders on your phone, putting sticky notes all over your room—whatever works best for you to stay organized, figure it out and stick to it.
Give Up! – No matter what, never give up hope and think that the rest of your life will be as confusing as middle school. You are in a critical time in your life, with emotional and physical challenges happening daily, but it will all work itself out. Don’t become overwhelmed with the drama surrounding you and remember that you have a bright future ahead of you. Soon this will all be a distant memory.
Now, for you parents of middle schoolers, help them through all this by loving them (even when they say, “eww!”), respecting the difficulties presented at this time in their life, and keeping open lines of honest communication. Establish a strong relationship for them to lean on by providing loving guidance, firm discipline, and constant reinforcement that they can talk to you about anything, no matter how awkward or difficult.
If you find that your child is experiencing difficulty in adjusting to middle school, consider an online education as an option to better facilitate academic and personal developmental needs at this juncture.