Being in middle school can be hard. Puberty. Friend drama. Rejections to middle school dance invitations. Parents can struggle with what to say when they awake one morning to find a strange, brooding teenager in the bedroom where an adorable little child lived just the day before. Here’s a short list of advice for your middle schooler to open the conversation about how you can support them.
1. Not everyone is going to be your friend, and that’s okay
In elementary school, everyone used to be friends with everyone. There were no “groups.” Most middle schools are bigger than elementary schools, and there are too many kids for you to get to know everyone. In middle school, you may notice kids start to divide up based on which classes they share or which activities they participate in outside of school. Football kids hang out with football kids and band kids with band kids. This doesn’t mean you don’t fit in, it just means you have to work a little harder to figure out where you fit in. Don’t get too stressed about where you don’t fit, just look around for the kids who welcome you in and spend more time with them. If you’re having trouble finding anyone to sit with at lunch, search for a kid who is sitting alone and sit with them. You’ll both feel included.
2. Bullying is a real problem, but that kid who doesn’t like you may not be a bully
The word “bullying” is being thrown around a lot, and sometimes, incorrectly. Some kids don’t want to be your friend, and maybe they don’t deal with it in the nicest way, but that is probably not such a huge deal. An actual bully tries to make you feel really terrible about yourself. He or she wants to grind a boot heel into your psyche and leave you feeling small. If you’re being bullied, it can feel like something too big to handle on your own, and then you should go to someone who has power (a teacher, counselor, or adult you trust is probably best) so you can get some help. If it’s just a kid who isn’t very nice, maybe just move on and find someone more accepting to hang with.
3. If you type it or snap a pic of it and hit send, it’s public information
In middle school, you’re probably just beginning to get into texting and on social media. Your mom or dad (or school counselor) may have already said this, but I think it’s worth repeating: If you hit send, that’s public information now. Kids never seem to believe me until it’s too late. That hilariously inappropriate picture you snapchatted to your bestie, guess what? She’s going to show that to someone most of the time. Especially if it was hilarious! If you don’t want it to get out, don’t send it. Not to your best friend, not to your boyfriend or girlfriend, not even to your mom. Just don’t. You’ll be glad you made this choice later.
4. You’re doing fine
There is a lot to learn in middle school, and your job is just to soak it up. There is no right or wrong way to do middle school. Harvard isn’t checking middle school grades, and as long as you’re not posting everything on the Internet (see item #3), mistakes while you learn are off the record. Don’t worry. You don’t have to be perfect, and you don’t have to have it all figured out. Just breathe and learn how the world works. In the end, middle school is just practice.
5. You may feel moody, but it’s going to get better
Research shows that the most difficult moods for teens happen early, right around the time of puberty. You may feel sad, irritable, angry, nervous, or insecure. If your moods are a mess, don’t freak out, it’s probably temporary. When humans go through puberty, a bunch of things change in the body and in the brain. Those brain changes make your emotions feel pretty intense sometimes. No, you’re not going to feel this way forever. But, if it’s too much to handle, find someone to talk to. Your parents would probably love for you to come to them, but if you can’t, try a mentor, a family friend, a youth minister, or some other trusted adult who has been there and can give you some good advice and support.
6. Your parents want to help, but they may not know how
Your relationship with your parents may be changing. You’re getting older and your perspective is starting to change. It may feel awkward to talk to your parents, or it may feel like you’re going to get in trouble if you tell them what you’re really thinking. But most parents do want to be there for you. If you can’t talk to them, talk to someone who is an adult, because your friends are in the same boat as you and they just may not have enough experience to help. Either way, know that your parents are still around and still care, even when you would rather call someone else.