When your kid starts middle school, people often ask: “How’s your kid like middle school?” with this weird trepidation. If their kids are older, it’s like they know a secret. If they’re kids are younger, it’s as if they are scared that you know a secret and they kind of want to know but also don’t want to know at all.
Because middle school is fucking scary.
When people ask this question, my usualy response is usually: “It’s fine.”
And it is. It’s fine. It’s fine in an HE’S FINE. I’M FINE. EVERYTHING IS FINE. EXCEPT OMG, IT’S SO NOT FINE kind of way.
Because here’s the thing about middle school: It sucks.
It sucks for the kids. It sucks for the parents. It sucks for the teachers.
Sure, it might not suck all the time, and it might suck more for some than others, but I guarantee at some point, it will be pretty damn sucky.
It sure was for me. In fact, middle school was absolute hell. Like eating lunch alone awful. I had acne and frizzy hair, and I was reminded of all the things I needed to change about myself on a regular basis. I was mocked for the books I read (yes, I read Babysitter Club books well into 8th grade) and I was pretty much the last girl to shave my legs or wear a bra, which made the gym locker room a special slice of hell.
Seventh grade was the apex of misery, and my hands shake just remembering back to all the times when I was shunned by a certain group of girls. Similarly my stomach drops when I think about the way I relished with relief, just a year later, when a different girl became the source of their mocking and exclusion. I remember with acrid bitterness all the times I said something hurtful either to someone’s face or behind their back.
Middle school was uncomfortable and confusing at best, cruel and brutal at worst.
And I doubt that I am alone in these experiences.
Which is why, if there is just one thing I want my son to understand as he makes his way through middle school, it is this: middle school is hard for everyone.
Everyone is struggling. Everyone is fumbling through. And for some kids (like me) middle school is/was really freaking awful. Like AWFUL.
So far, my son seems to be adjusting relatively well. Sure, we’ve had our share of behavior setbacks and adjustments. He’s been hurt and disappointed by friends. He’s messed up, big time, and suffered the consequences. But for the most part, middle school doesn’t seem awful for me. I like to think that part of this is due to the fact that we’ve done away with the “kids will be kids” passive tolerance to meanness and bullying. We’ve educated our kids on the importance of kindness and empathy. And some of his teachers seem to ascribe less to the “grown-ups know best” attitude, and are willing to share stories of their own mistakes and regrets during adolescence.
But just because it isn’t sucky or awful for him now, doesn’t mean it won’t be sucky or awful at some point or that it isn’t sucky or awful for someone else in his peer group.
Which is why the biggest lesson I want him to know is that middle school is really hard for lots of people. There are kids who are eating lunch alone. Find them and invite them to join you.
There are kids who are uncomfortable in their changing bodies. Help them feel good about themselves.
There are people who are different for some reason or another. Make them feel like they belong.
There are people who are worried because they don’t fit this beauty norm or that fashion trend. Remind them that “beauty norms” are nonsense and we’re all beautiful.
There are people who are hurting. There are people for whom middle school is really sucky and really awful. Find them and be a bright spot in their day.
Because make no mistake about it, middle school sucks at one time or another for everyone. Kids, parents, teachers, everyone.
If you’re a lucky one for whom middle school is actually “fine” or maybe even kinda awesome, be on the lookout for those people and try to make it a little less sucky, maybe even good. As I tell my son, if middle school isn’t misery for you, your job is to make it better for someone else.
And then remember: when it gets really sucky (because it probably will), it isn’t just you.