5 Things Your Middle Schooler Is Doing Right Now

middle-school

As a middle school teacher, I assure you that the modern day middle school experience is every bit as awkward as yours was. Since you’ve probably blocked out those memories, here’s a refresher on the five essential activities of the middle schooler.

1. Finding out some piece of fascinating, yet grotesque and terrifying knowledge about sex. Elementary school playground talk bordered on the silly and patently false; No one freaked out when Cindy McClanahan told everyone that sex was when a girl and a boy licked each other’s butts, because no one thought that was actually true. Same when Billy Gibbs said that all the families in the neighborhood had two kids because wives got pregnant by eating one of their husband’s testicles. But middle schoolers are seeing more mature films, having more unsupervised time online, and hearing more from their older siblings, so their sex talk has the air of authenticity. I’ll never forget the slumber party conversation during which I first heard of a blow job. Purely speculative, of course—my cadre of friends and I were still trying to get boys to notice we existed—but I was dumbfounded. What? People put… that’s a thing? So make sure you don’t talk about anything sexy around middle-schoolers. They’re already traumatized.

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2. Being hopelessly, obsessively in love with someone. Middle-schoolers are notorious for being fickle, but what their affections may lack in duration, they make up for in intensity. The Adored One may be someone your child has never interacted with, doesn’t currently interact with, and will never interact with. He or she also might be a giant fuck-up and the last person you’d ever want to see your child wed. Don’t sweat it. Once high school comes, he or she can move on to more terrifying people who might actually impregnate, or be impregnated by, them. You’re welcome.

If there’s one thing that defines a middle-schooler’s existence, it’s this senseless, aching passion known as a “crush.” My seventh-grade crush had long hair and an earring and smoked cigarettes behind Turner’s Bowling Alley, where I saw him every Saturday morning for Youth Bowling League. I would follow his movements with my eyes while Def Leppard’s “Love Bites” evoked in me a curious feeling I now know as “sexual awakening.” In my journal, I lamented the impossibility of our union; he was a rebel, I was a nerd, and we’d be forever fettered by the labels society had imposed upon us. He had a longtime girlfriend whose bangs were formidable in both size and stiffness. In 1989, this meant she was an alpha female. So I stayed to myself, drawing hearts on the cover of my journal with nail polish and obsessively calculating and recalculating our compatibility using a time-tested formula based on how many letters our names had in common.

For most of my middle school career, though, my crush was my academic rival, whom I inexplicably failed to woo by beating him twice in the school spelling bee. Although he lived in my neighborhood, the only time I ever came close to talking to him was when my parents drove by his house one summer day and he was outside shirtless mowing the lawn, whereupon I screamed and ducked behind the passenger seat. We did finally share a painfully robotic slow dance at the eighth-grade formal, but were “cut in” upon by a popular girl. She finished the dance with My One True Love while I went home to pack for the National Spelling Bee. The local paper ran a full-page photo of me with a mouth full of braces and my arm around an unabridged dictionary, which I’m sure made me irresistible to every boy in the eighth grade.

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The moral of these stories is, there’s nothing you can do as a parent to control or even mitigate the vicissitudes of love. Just remember not to talk about anything sexy, ’cause it’s gross.

3. Contending with some sort of physical calamity. There are so many of these in preadolescence—acne, orthodontic torture devices, changing in the locker room, the first menstrual period, random classroom boners. But what I remember most are the fashion calamities. At no other time in life will people look as completely ridiculous as they do in middle school. The evolution of my fashion sense in middle school went something like this:

Sixth grade: Hmm, my parents are largely picking out my clothes for me, but these hand-me-downs from a slightly older family friend obviously are not working out. You know what will fix that? A giant bow on my head for picture day, and silver shoes from Payless Shoe Source. There. Now you’re stylin’.

Seventh grade: Buy me whatever anyone else is wearing. I don’t know why people are doing this with the bottom of their jeans; just leave me alone. Yes, I need two pairs of socks. In contrasting colors.

Eighth grade: Now that I’ve almost got this figured out, it’s time to switch things up a bit. A skort in a loud, hideous print? And a matching one for my best friend? All we need is matching t-shirts decorated in puffy paint. I think we all can see who’s the trendsetter here!

Boys, at least, don’t have to contend with makeup. One day in eighth grade I put mascara on my eyebrows. I have no idea why I did this. The boy who would later become my best friend, with a candor I’ve come to appreciate in a gay man, said, “Oh my God; what did you do to your eyebrows?”

I shrugged. “Just something different, I guess.”

He continued to stare at my face. “You look like a vampire.”

Your parental responsibilities on this one are pretty light. Let your kids wear whatever. If you have to go to the mall, just walk far behind them. That’s what they want anyway.

4. Struggling to navigate a barely navigable social hierarchy. If you have a middle-schooler, he or she is probably being threatened or socially excluded somehow. And chances are, he or she is threatening or excluding someone else. I don’t necessarily mean “threatening” in an overtly physical way, the way I was threatened by the biggest girl in seventh grade, nicknamed “Beef,” who vowed every day to beat me up in the locker room. She also enjoyed torturing me by putting my ink pens down her pants, which I had done absolutely nothing to warrant. (Except, I suppose, being a small, timid overachiever who named her ink pens. But that’s neither here nor there.) “Threats” in middle school can be, and often are, unspoken, leveraged by those with social power. And since what middle-schoolers desire most is social approval, those unspoken threats can be very compelling. Daily, middle-schoolers are getting thousands of (sometimes conflicting) social messages: If you do this, people will like you; If you do this, people won’t like you. Above all, the object is to conform, to blend. Not to stand out, and not to look weak. Middle-schoolers need to be babied sometimes, but they can’t risk letting anyone see it.

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With such enormous social pressure, is it any wonder that middle-schoolers sometimes feel that pressure from their parents will take them over the edge? Parents want them to be mature, but not to grow up too fast; some kids are given the responsibilities of adulthood before they’re given the rights, some vice versa, and some are given both way too soon. I’ve seen enough kids cry in conferences to know that many do want to please. They just can’t please everyone, enough, all the time.

5. Worrying about being normal. This is one thing you, as a parent, can do something about—nonverbally, verbally, whatever way you can. Middle-schoolers need reassurance that they’re OK. And that it’s all going to be OK, even if it seems weird and horrible right now.

In fact, that reassurance may be the single most important thing you can give. So give it liberally.

But don’t talk about sex. That’s gross.

About the writer

@AbbyBWriter

Abby Byrd writes humor, satire, and cultural criticism. She is in disbelief that she has yet to receive any financial compensation for being so clever and hilarious. Follow her on Twitter @AbbyBWriter and at her blog, Little Miss Perfect.

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6th grade girl 2 weeks ago

I spend most of my time in school alone, Its way better than hanging around with those annoying girls.

dude 4 months ago

if you’re afraid of middle school, no offense, think about high school. Then college, then grad school then LIFE. how are you going to deal with that? By keeping your child home? Probably shouldn’t.

Ipsita 7 months ago

I am a middle schooler and in my school we spent our 90% time talking about sex. All relationships, crushes going on. I think parents should not mind until their teens deteriod in studies. And yeah we see porn movies!!

Guest 8 months ago

Wtf

Guest 8 months ago

This is true in most cases. I just graduated from middle school a year ago. And yes, middle school is a nightmare. Most middle schoolers are interested in sex, which I think is disgusting, I never did. Most middle schoolers have already dated someone, I never have, and I do find it strange that they consider this “real love” when it’s mostly just to fit in. True, most middle school wear is horrifying in a way, with long v-necks barely covering anything and short short skirts that show, but there still is the few modest kids who don’t care about the latest trends. There definitley is an organised heiarchy, I was always at the bottom, and excluded, I don’t recall ever excluding anyone, but how should I know? But the completely true statement is the one about worrying about being normal. All middle schoolers experience that.

Erin 10 months ago

NEVER do that! If you do then he will feel like you are trying to keep him from socializing. Ask your friends what middle school they’re kids are going to. (May i suggest Robert O. Gibson if you live in Las Vegas Nevada) There Ya Go…

10 months ago

I’d say earlier. Third and Fourth grade are the years where their sexual vocabulary and knowledge really expand. Middle School is more about your first times actually being sexually attracted to your peers rather than just romantically like in Elementary School.

Middle schooler 10 months ago

I am a middle schooler and yes, this sometimes does happen but it all depends on their friends. My friends do talk sex and they do have crushes and so do i bit I’m hiding it behind my patents backs. No matter if your son/daughter is your “cupcake”, they will always be doing so watching behind your back that you will now approve of.

airen 1 year ago

some of this is true but not every teacher knows whats going on we know alot more stuff then would when you were our age and we learn this from people just talking about it

Derp 1 year ago

Yes, none of this, or very little is true. It truly does depend on what school it is. Very few schools are actually like that.

Random276 1 year ago

THIS WEB SITE NEEDS BETTER COMMENT RESTRITENS I MEAN WHAT THE FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK SEE CAN CAUSE ALL I WANT MOTHER FUCKER

Random276 1 year ago

also BULLYING IS FUN I GET BULLIED AND ALSO BULLY

Random276 1 year ago

YOU CRAZY BI**H NO NOT EVEN CLOSE TO RIGHT

Random276 1 year ago

wtf is this sh*t Im in middle school right now a 7th grader lost my virginty at 9 sex is very common now VERY sex is a almost daily thing at least if your popular like me most of the time MIDDLE SCHOOLERS DO USE CONDOMS so dont worry moms/dads IT IS SAFE SEX we do have long term relationships after about 6th grade WE WILL NOT TELL YOU THIS WE WILL ONLY POST IT ANONYMOUS SO WE DONT GET IN TROBLUE even if your kid is acts like he is a goody good good he most likly is not WE WILL DENIY THIS ALL BUUT WE STILL DO IT

Random 1 year ago

I am a middle schooler, and I came across this, and it is completely inaccurate. But it is understandable, because is a teacher, and middle school teachers, truely, have to guess what is going on in the halls, or where ever they don’t see.

Lee Greenmeadow 1 year ago

I wish I’d known more about what my daughter was going through as a middle-schooler. I doubt I could have changed things, but I would have understood her better.
You are an amazing writer with great insight. Thanks for sharing.

SammichesPsychMeds 1 year ago

I’m trying desperately not to talk about sex with my 5 yo, but he’s relentless about where babies come from. Apparently just appearing in Mommy’s belly one day is no longer acceptable. Also, I’ve attempted to block out middle school in much the same way a prisoner blocks out captivity or a victim of violent crime blocks out details of their ordeal. It’s only mildly successful.

SammichesPsychMeds 1 year ago

I got it, Abby. Seemed both obvious and hilarious to me.

Jeanne Lussem Brock 1 year ago

Sounds about right…

Chrissy 1 year ago

I’m a middle school teacher too. my middle schooler attends the school I work at! I hated middle school and watching your kid navigate it at home and at school well I’m sure you can imagine. I thought I would be more prepared for having a middle schooler because I have been teaching middle schoolers for forever. However, Teaching Middle School hasn’t made parenting a middle schooler any easier. Lol

Monique Rosene 1 year ago

I don’t know it’s true but my sons in 8th grade now he has watched friends smoke pot ciggs n drink at 13 he has heard of them already having sex he has watched them bully n be bullied yes I do know my son has been picked on from time 2 time he has made some one feel bad he broke a girls heart n he’s had his broken I’m very lucky he talks to me and they say don’t talk about sex n stuff or stay back but I don’t I talk I’m honest n open yet firm he knows the consequence n he knows if he breaks the rules I will find out! He has a girlfriend going on 6months I tell him love is serious n what changes may come in high school n how they may not last I help him with acne hygiene n fashion n he loves it he struggles in some classes so I’m very involved I know all teachers well n his friends I feel lucky he doesn’t like ciggs tried once I caught him n he puked hates it now he hates pot n alcohol due to seeing it ruin others lives he tries hard In class never has ditched n is very well behaved never suspended or even sent to office n he’s pretty popular friends with hole school but not mean to kids that aren’t so popular it’s not as bad as u think kids r resilient n be open honest loving n stern times r changing keep very involved

abbybyrd 1 year ago

Seriously guys…stop posting about how it’s not OK to ignore the topic of sex! It’s a HUMOR PIECE!!

abbybyrd 1 year ago

Thanks and thanks for the follow, Ariel!

abbybyrd 1 year ago

Thanks!

abbybyrd 1 year ago

Thanks for reading!

abbybyrd 1 year ago

Hopefully it all turned out OK for you!! Thanks for reading!

abbybyrd 1 year ago

It’s not actually advising parents to ignore the topic of sex with their children. The intent of “Don’t talk about sex” is humor, since kids think it’s gross when parents talk about sex and don’t want to think of their parents as sexual beings. I didn’t think I’d have to explain that, but it seems like some people are taking it a little bit too seriously.

Chris Axel-Masscre Duncan 1 year ago

So very true, loved the but about the clothes

Shelly 1 year ago

Totally agree! Don’t talk about sex? Got to! I want to tell my kids the facts and open up the door of sex…so that it stays open. I totally understand the satire in this piece…but the more you talk now, the more the kids will continue to talk later!

Julie King Gorniak 1 year ago

OMG…I dread middle school for my girls! (5 and 3)

Brenda Robles 1 year ago

Lol I did the mascara on eyebrows too. Now they have similar products for eyebrows. I say, we were ahead of our game. Hehe. Hilarious.

Leigh Jones Green 1 year ago

I’ve been teaching middle school for 13 years…. Its a rough few years for MANY kids! Bullying, trying to fit in, hormones,…. Talk to your children openly and honestly!

Toni 1 year ago

Relax. I’ve got #4 in middle school and it hasn’t been bad. Keep talking, talking, talking to them. They might pretend to ignore you, but deep in their soul they hear you. Make home their bedrock to help them put the school and social drama in perspective. Get them involved at church or your place of worship to give them a foundation of faith and a home away from home and school. To those of you who haven’t parented this stage yet — enjoy the ride!

Kristina 1 year ago

Don’t talk about sex? When their friends are already talking?? Gross or not, or however awkward it seems, they need accurate and appropriate education about sex. I’d certainly rather that my kids hear it from me first. Parents need to keep the communication line open on this critical topic.

Grace Gee 1 year ago

Hilarious. Love it! Kids don’t name your ink pens :)

Leslie Moraitis Thorpe 1 year ago

I see these daily in my seventh grader!

Elizabeth Tarmann 1 year ago

Middle school was probably the worst time in my life. High school was paradise in comparison. I hope my kids have a better experience than I did!

Kathy Connell 1 year ago

most that is pretty true. i don’t want her to go to middle school.

Angie Walters 1 year ago

Wow. She hit the nail on the head!

Kim 1 year ago

This was great. Having seen one daughter through HS and my youngest currently in 7th grade this is spot on. Sex IS gross when your in middle school, technology be damned. It is especially gross when your parents mention it. It is my experience that 7th grade is the worse. To paraphrase Molly Ringwald, “I loathe the hoodie”. I have had arguments with one daughter who didn’t see why she had to wash her hoodie every night when she was wearing it day in and day out in June. I have walked around a mall on Saturday afternoon with a girl who carefully chose a cute outfit, did her hair and makeup and then covered it all up with a hoodie that was a skeleton with a skull on the head and then was disturbed because everyone was looking at her. But it was still more comfortable than walking around with people being able to see her body, which actually looked good in her cute outfit. I remember once hearing on a tv show someone say, don’t worry about body drama, your only 13 your lumps and bumps haven’t sorted themselves out yet. And this is so true but you will never get a kid this age to believe it.

Alissa Gabriel 1 year ago

My poor MSer suffers on a daily basis. And (I think) he is one of the sporty cool kids. I wouldn’t re-live those years for all the tea in China.

Connie Finney Bryan 1 year ago

I must be very old. I loved Middle school! Met my husband in 8th grade.

Shanel Whitfield Gahagen 1 year ago

I have two daughters. I am dreading this.

Jessica Smith 1 year ago

Lol thinking about 6&7 grade makes me wanna cry

Leslie Epstein 1 year ago

There was nothing on EARTH worse than junior high. Just an awful time of my life.

Courtney Tetreault 1 year ago

middle school was the worst time in my life, and I can’t block it out LOL

Michelle Munn 1 year ago

Damn I have so much to look forward to when my oldest starts middle school in the fall

Trish Hubbard 1 year ago

No fond memories for me….junior high was so horrid that I still wake up from nightmares of being back there! And I am a grandma of 9 now……

Barbara Mastroddi-Lackey 1 year ago

I don’t remember a lot about middle school, as those were very painful years for me (I was bullied incessantly, and didn’t get any support from my so-called friends, and didn’t confide in my parents). I was also struggling to feel in place; you’re in that stage where you’re no longer a child and are trying to be an adult (be it experimenting with makeup, smoking cigarettes, being more aware of fashion), but very few of us did it with any ease. I only hope my daughter has an easier time of it than I did (won’t have to worry for at least another two years). At least socially, she’s more at ease than I ever was.

Wendy Rubin-Stucchio 1 year ago

Loved this . So true

Jane 1 year ago

Sex is not gross to middle schoolers. I’m 11 years out of middle school myself, and I have two kids. Parents can live in denial but sex is everywhere, the internet leaves this huge opening for talk about sex, with FB chat, we had AIM (lol). But, I’m seriously having sex talks with my kids at 11 or so. I think it’s very important. Just because parents don’t want to have the talk, doesn’t mean you can ignore it. I KNOW it’s hard to look at your middle schooler and think anything of the sort. Most kids won’t end up doing the deed for a while, but they figure out other things to do, and then comes high school where all bets are off.

Mary Schneider 1 year ago

Don’t talk about sex. It’s gross.
ROFLOL! That holds true for my 17yo! (Yes, the one who told her brother the other day, “Don’t put your penis into anything you don’t want to have a baby with”.) Omg I near drove off the road… Mortified by her candor, and proud of the wisdom. LOL

Middle school can be hellish, for sure. Public school in general is a minefield… if your kid does well, it can be a great experience… if they struggle in one area or another, it can be scarring. For my kids, it’s been a roller coaster that’s included a few years of homeschooling, tantrums, battles with the administration, and counseling. If I could go back and do things over, I would’ve homeschooled from Kindergarten.
On the plus side, they’ve both made some very good friends, and two or three of those relationships I could see lasting well into adulthood, as one of my childhood friendships has. That is treasure enough to make the craziness worth it, providing we all survive until graduation.

Callie 1 year ago

I taught middle schoolers for a short while. Being on the outside looking in was no less awkward than my own experiences. You want to grab them by the shoulders, shake them gently and tell them don’t sweat all this silly, little stuff. But you can’t. Their brains are trapped in puberty-tweenie teenie-middle school Hell mode. Like you said, you can only stand by and reassure them that Johnny doesn’t know what he’s missing and the Mean Girl will get what’s her’s one day.

Looking back middle school wasn’t that bad, neither was high school. Elementary school was more Hellish.

Nancy Petty Steurer 1 year ago

Totally! Make sure their iPad are super secure 😉

Ariel Gordon Bernstein 1 year ago

A really great, funny read although it’s making me remember all the things I must have blocked out from those years!

Melissa K Jonyka 1 year ago

I guess at least when our kids get to middle school, their dad and I have already been there, done that. There won’t be a lot they could get passed us.

Sarah Fritz-Maldonado 1 year ago

#2 is the only one I don’t have to deal with currently… Thank god but being a parent of a middle schooler is alot harder than I anticipated smh

Julie Stuckmeyer King 1 year ago

That is awesome!!! Made me laugh this morning!

Kristin D. 1 year ago

Thanks for posting this, Abby! I needed to be reminded of the hell my 14-year-old is walking through. I must resolve to be kinder to her…poor baby :'(

Jillian Russo Dunn 1 year ago

I hate to break it to you, but thanks to technology middle schoolers know way more about sex than you think. This sounds more like a stage a fifth grader would go through.

Kara Hunt Carey 1 year ago

I vividly remember middle school and still get sick thinking about it!

Becky 1 year ago

As a mother of 4 teens, the youngest being an 8th grade girl, I have to say you are spot on! In addition, you and I could have been BFFs in high school. While you were naming your pens, I was in my room…PLAYING SCHOOL..in 8th grade. Such a nerd. 😉

Kimberly Eastman Mora 1 year ago

Block them out? I’m 37, those were the finest years, better than high school. And they still feel like yesterday, even after 4 kids!

Shana Cantrell Klinefelter 1 year ago

I’m going to have to pull my son out and home school him during those years. He’s such a little weirdo. It’s adorable now. It will be charming when he’s an adult. But middle school?? I don’t think I can send him to that horrible place!

Ann Mitchell Norman 1 year ago

I wish I could block them out! Horribly scarring!