By Katy M. Clark
“She’s nervous,” I told my coworker about my daughter, who is 11, as we sat outside on a warm day eating lunch. “Who can blame her? She’s going to middle school.”
“Middle school was awesome,” my coworker said, her voice laden with sarcasm. “I had braces and wore glasses and a back brace.”
Awkward Middle School Years
“I wore braces, too,” I commented.“ And I was the tallest kid in 7th grade. Boys called me the Jolly Green Giant.”
She nodded, chewing thoughtfully on her sandwich. I think I saw her shudder.
But that’s when it hit me. I looked at the two of us, all these years later, both successful at work and fulfilled with families and activities that we loved.
What if middle school didn’t crush us after all? What if the physical awkwardness and social mishaps of middle school taught us invaluable life lessons that prepared us for our lives today?
I think the answer is that it did. And I can’t wait to tell my daughter why.
Life Lessons from Middle School
Resilience. You will fail in middle school. Maybe it’s a bad grade in algebra or being cut from the volleyball team. But you go back to middle school every day. You study harder and get help. A bad tryout teaches you to shake it off and try something else. You fall and get back up. You become resilient.
Embracing change. Middle school is all about change. You will not be the same height or weight from one year to the next. Friends may come and go. You will change classes like you change the toilet paper roll–constantly. Middle school is a daily affirmation that change is part of life–that it can be good or bad, but you will survive it.
Conflict resolution. Conflicts, like someone using your pen without permission or cutting in front of you in the cafeteria line, happen daily in middle school. Do you avoid or accommodate the situation? Mediate or challenge it? Each day provides an opportunity to work on communicating your side of the story and empathizing with someone else. The conflict may not resolve itself every time, but the chances to learn and grow are there.
Note to kids: bullying is a form of conflict that is never okay. Always talk to a teacher or trusted adult about bullying and be involved with your school to create and promote a safe environment for everyone.
Self-acceptance. I still remember when a boy made fun of my butt in eighth grade, taunting me that it was flat compared to the other girls. But the truth? My less than curvaceous derriere didn’t bother me. It still doesn’t, even in a Kim Kardashian world. Middle school is when you get to decide what you like or accept about yourself, regardless of what others think.
What a true friend looks like. Middle school friendships can be sources of comfort and support, and also causes of pain and confusion. Did your supposed best friend reject you this week? Learn from it and choose someone kinder to be in your life. Middle school teaches you that you deserve friends that treat you well and friends that encourage you rather than tear you down.
So as my daughter heads towards a new adventure next year, I will be there to remind her that the lessons and experiences of middle school, although they may be hard or uncomfortable, will mold her, not crush her. That these awkward middle school years will teach her to become resilient, embrace change, deal with conflict, accept herself, and learn what makes a true friend.