I’m pretty much in denial that it’s happening, but in a few short days, my 11-year-old son will be starting middle school. And although he exudes a whole lot more confidence and know-how about the ins and outs of middle school than I did at his age, I remember middle school with a wicked vividness. And to say I am concerned about what’s on the horizon for my son would be the understatement of the year.
So, dear son, although I can’t make things perfect for you, or rescue you from the growing pains of…well, growing up, I offer you some words of wisdom as you begin your journey through these years of changes, independence, and awesomeness (I swear that will be part of it too!).
1. It’s normal to feel like you’re the only one feeling awkward (you’re not).
One of the hardest things about this stage is that you’re certain that you’re the only one feeling totally out of place. It’s hard to believe that anyone else is unsure how to make friends, what to do about those new flutters of romantic feelings, and the perplexing situation that is happening with your body. And don’t even get me started about pre-teen skin (pimples can crop up anywhere, including your butt, and I promise it will get better).
But you are not alone. I know it’s hard to believe, but 300% of the population of your school feel exactly as awkward as you do. In fact, every human ever to walk this earth has been there. And we survived. Mostly.
2. You’ll want to try to fit in, but being true to yourself is the most important thing.
Have I gotten the point across that everyone in middle school feels desperate to fit in? The thing is, as much as that’s understandable, and you should do what you need to do to feel comfortable with your place in your social sphere, it’s so important not to sacrifice yourself or your ideals just to be popular or accepted. Popular doesn’t always equal kind or amazing (though it can!). And if a group of kids don’t share your interests or make you feel loved, then they aren’t the right friends for you. Be yourself—that’s the person your true friends will admire and want to hang with.
3. Remember to shower and change your underwear.
You could get away with skipping a shower or two before. But let me be blunt: YOU CAN’T ANYMORE. And if I see only 1-2 dirty pairs of underwear in the laundry, we have a problem here. Deodorant is your friend, too. Trust me.
4. Good grades aren’t everything.
More and more, your teachers and peers are going to be focusing on your grades, tests scores, the whole she-bang. They might even be talking about how these stats will influence your college acceptance, future career, and life as you know it. But as much as I want you to develop good study skills, and try your best, the fact is that most of this talk is bullshit with a side of STFU.
How you do in school doesn’t really determine your future happiness, or even your success (not everyone finds their career path through a traditional four-year college experience). So getting a bad grade here or there isn’t going to mean much in the long-run. And even struggling students find their way in the world. I promise.
5. Fake friends aren’t worth it.
Now is the time to start to really trust your gut when it comes to friendships. It might take some doing, but you’re going to find your people. You know, people who make you laugh, love you for who you are, and who are kind and supportive. But sometimes someone will appear to be all those things, and then turn out to be a total jerk. I give you permission to stop being friends with that person. It’s not worth your time. Usually these sorts of people show their true colors early on in a friendship, and it’s good to say sayonara then and there. Bye, Felicia.
6. Always choose kindness.
The words you say now matter more than ever. So whatever you do, choose kindness. That doesn’t mean that you have to kiss the ass of everyone you meet. But it means that you consider others’ feelings in everything you do. And if you see someone who crosses the line—or worse yet, exhibits bullying behavior—you’ve got to call it out. Your parents and teachers can help you with this one sometimes. But other times, it’s going to be just you, telling that person that hate has no place in your friends’ circle, community, or school.
7. I am always your safe space to land.
Things are going to get intense for a while. You’re going to want to be independent in ways that scare you or make you uncomfortable. It’s going to be confusing at times, because in so many ways you’re just a kid who needs his mom. But I’m still here. I’m not going anywhere. I’m here for our late night talks about all the worries and fears swirling around in your little mind. And I’m always, always up for a few extra snuggles. No one else even has to know.
I think that’s it for now, kid. I’m sure I’m forgetting a million other things, because although I remember the middle school years well, they were exactly 10 zillion years ago. And things have changed a lot since then. But if anything comes up, or if you have any questions along the way, come to me and ask? I will listen without judgment—and of course with love, and healthy dose of humor.
Because laughter is going to be the key to getting through the amazing shitshow years that await you.