Middle School In The '80s Versus Today

by Cynthia Correa
Originally Published: 

My son recently started 8th grade and it boggles my mind to think that I was in 8th grade in 1985. While a lot has changed in 33 years, one thing that remains the same is that 8th grade is no walk in the park.

While I vaguely remember my junior high days of horror being ruled by social awkwardness and bullying, I pretty much blocked it all out of memory until now that my son is living in the throes of it.

I’m now experiencing selective amnesia and déjà vu at the same time, if that’s even possible.

If your child is anything like mine, they’re not rushing home to tell you exactly how their school day went, what they’re feeling, what they did, or who they talked with. I’m lucky to get a “good” and a “nothing” when I ask how my son’s day went and what he did.

So, in an effort to recall those days again and see what my son may be experiencing in middle school, I went to see the movie Eighth Grade by Bo Burnham. While it was an excellent movie that portrayed the challenges of early adolescence, the overall sentiment I came out with is that you have to have twice the tough skin to make it through 8th grade today than when we were in 8th grade.

Here are some hard truths of being an 8th grader today:

1. Heads are down all the time.

As I wait for my child to come out of school, I see how every kid’s face is glued to their phones, even while they’re talking with friends, waiting, walking or crossing the street. Yikes! Look up, please. Unfortunately, ignoring people for phones is the new normal (goes for adults too, sadly). It’s ironic how they barely use their phone to talk and here all we had were nasty payphones no one wanted to use anyway.

2. Social media has a strong hold on them.

They are avid Instagram and Snapchat users and social media is definitely playing a big role in the development of their social identities. The reality is that this begets constant comparisons which forces them to look at their own lives (and shortcomings). As a result, they are driven by views, likes, and acceptance while getting thousands of social messages (sometimes disturbing ones) every day. And here I thought we had it tough just trying to be socially accepted on school grounds. Our kids are dealing with these battles on campus and digitally.

3. Mass shooting drills are the new norm.

How awful is that? Lucky for us we only had fire and earthquake drills. Although chances of a mass shooting occurring at their school are slim, the fact that they have to train and imagine it happening has to shake them to the core. It’s very sad that it’s come to this.

4. The pressure to excel is greater.

Is it just me or does it seem like their curriculum and homework is more advanced and challenging than what we did at that age? But really, it’s everything from thinking about their grades for high school, what high school has the best programs, to where they’re going to apply to college — the pressure to excel and be a high achiever is greater than what we faced. In my middle school days, parents were not stressing about what high schools and programs their kids were going to be placed in. I certainly wasn’t losing sleep over my grades or thinking about college in middle school. But maybe that was just me, I don’t know.

5. Kids today “hang out” online.

Kids today don’t have time for hanging out with their friends after school like we did. It’s a shame really. Instead, they hang out with each other on their iPhones or play online games with each other. In the 80’s once that bell rang, we were out the door like a prisoner making a getaway, just to hang out with our friends or go to the mall or arcade until it was time to go home. These days, unfortunately, it seems like kids’ lives are ruled by organized activities and stricter schedules.

So, while it seems like you have to have twice the thick skin to go through middle school today, I also believe our kids are stronger for it all. And just like we made it to the other side (with little damage, hopefully), so will they.

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