Middle school. The awkward years. The growing up years. The drama years. Do you remember EVERY detail from middle school? I do.
Back in my day, it was called Jr. High. I remember my locker location. I remember the popular hangout spot. I remember my ESPRIT book bag, my ice blue eyeshadow, and my big teased bangs. And yes, oh yes – the school dance … pause a moment for the butterflies to settle as I sing Bon Jovi’s “I’ll Be There For You” and “Sweet Child O’ Mine” in my head … sigh.
I can also vividly remember my crush. J.J. He was one of the popular kids. I wasn’t. We never dated. I don’t even think we talked. We smiled as we passed each other in the hall. Then one day we started sharing notes. You know. Those notes that we meticulously folded in the shape of a rectangle with the little fold-under tab? He was smooth. He could woo you with his words. Then one day, my Jr. High world came to a stand still. J.J. photocopied one of my notes and decided to hang it up all around school.
Y’all, this is the equivalent to a pic going viral on social media… well sort of. My love letter was out there for everyone to see…I was certain EVERYONE was looking at me. I felt naked. Like that reoccuring dream.
WHY?! Why would he do this? Because that’s what middle school boys do! At the time I was crushed. But then I did what any mature Jr. High girl would do; I returned the gesture with photocopies of one of his notes. Somehow that relationship didn’t go anywhere.
Now fast forward to being a mom of a middle schooler.
In 2015, youngest daughter Kaitlyn entered middle school, and even though I felt like I had all of the answers for her, I didn’t. I discovered a gem of a book, The Drama Years by Haley Kilpatrick, and I will be referencing it OFTEN because … well … she pretty much nails it! (Direct quotes will be in italics.)
We don’t realize it until it’s upon us, but the transition into middle school forces our daughters to face grown-up things to worry about, like dealing with crushes and negotiating with how she feels about her body and appearances. What group will she fit into?
FITTING IN (and my #momfail)
My daughter Kaitlyn doesn’t fit a mold. In fact, she is put off by people who conform…you know, the kids who all dress the same. So it didn’t surprise me when she decided that she would create her own style of clothes. Not preppy. Not goth. Just Kaitlyn. It took a little while for me to get used to her middle school style. There were even days that I pushed her to look more “modern – current” … One of my darkest mornings as a mom was when I forced her to change into a different outfit. I still remember her words … “WHY ARE YOU TRYING TO CHANGE ME?”
UGH … I just wanted her to fit in. I remember in Jr. High desperately trying to fit in. Remember my ESPRIT book bag? Well, mine was homemade. Looking back on it now, I’m pretty impressed that my mom was able to create a knock-off that fooled my classmates. Very Pinterest-y, if you ask me. But at the time, I was terrified that someone would notice the hand-stitching or the painted letters.
“More than ever before, girls feel they must be ‘perfect’ – in school, in sports and other after-school activities, and at home.”
My daughter has always been happy-go-lucky. Nothing rattled her. Then out of the blue, she started expressing how stressed she was. Stressed about her grades. Stressed about school. Stressed about her friends’ being bullied. It took me back a few steps. My daughter, who last year didn’t mind if she got a B or C, is now stressing if she doesn’t get straight A’s.
“Parents can help by recognizing their tween girl’s stress for what it is: not waving it away or assuming that only adults experience stress.”
THE INTERNET AND LIVING IN THE SOCIAL WORLD
“Without question, the biggest shift in the world of middle school girls is technological. With smartphones, Skype, texting, and Facebook, girls in sixth through eighth grate today have more opportunities to connect with others than any previous generation.”
Here I thought my photocopied hand-written note was devastating … imagine if that was an e-mail, Snapchat, Instagram photo or text that went viral over the internet. There’s no taking back words or photos that go online … and unfortunately this young generation is finding out the hard way.
“In interviews with both tweens and their parents, a few things stood out. Most parents said they want to help their daughters keep a strong sense of self throughout these years, but many are too busy to spend a lot of time helping their daughters on that journey of self-discovery – or they don’t know just how important it is.”
We need to be involved, stay involved, and we can’t ignore their little cues.
From a seasoned mom who has walked this Middle School road with three kids, my advice to any mamas who are just starting this journey is to talk, talk, talk….and listen, listen, listen!!! Be firm with your rules. Have grace when they fail. Praise the little things. Be goofy. Be present. Don’t let up, just because they don’t need your help. Pay attention to that voice in your head when you think something might be wrong. And if you are the praying kind… pray for them and pray with them.
Remember your middle school years and how hard it can be. Then take it times 10 and that’s where your middle schooler is at. And if you need a mama to chat with, shoot me a comment below. Let’s walk this thing together!
*Direct quotes from The Drama Years in italics