Let’s Give Middle Schoolers a Break

Do you remember middle school? 

I remember everything but seventh grade. It’s gone. It’s lost forever in a void dominated by glasses, braces, pre-algebra, colorful Gelly Roll pens, and emotions (so many emotions). 

Bits and pieces of middle-school-me survived, though… and, no, I don’t mean the Backstreet Boys locker collage cut and glued together from magazines that’s carefully stowed in a plastic storage box of memories. 

The friends I made in middle school are still some of my nearest and dearest. There’s something about making it through such awkward times together that forges unbreakable bonds. These are the friends that have survived the distance created by the internet, geography, jobs, and motherhood, too; we can go months without connecting but then fall right back into trading jokes or comfortable conversation.

Preschool 2.0

Motherhood has provided an eye-opening perspective on middle school. My son is only 4 and still years away from being a pre-teen, but– oh my goodness, the similarities!

  1. Middle schoolers and toddlers both feel ALL of the emotions. Not only do they experience the gamut, but they also make scary fast transitions between those emotions.
  2. Managing friendships can be tough for anyone. I have a tough enough time with lopsided mom friendships. Toddlers and middle schoolers, though? Let’s just call this the “you’re not my best friend” phase.
  3. Both toddlers and middle schoolers are expert tantrum throwers. They pout, they stomp, they whine, and they even throw themselves or collapse dramatically to the floor (emphasis on the drama).

Bottom line: middle school is a lot like the toddler years without the potty training.

Paradoxical Pre-teens

Middle schoolers desperately want to be independent, but they’re still so darn needy! This push and pull with parents can be exhausting for everyone. Ultimately, while the kids are acting so much more like grown-ups, we have to remember that they’re simply not. They can make themselves some Easy Mac, sure, but they can’t drive themselves across the city, and they can’t make enough money at small jobs to be truly independent.

They are attempting to forge their future selves– to become the people they want to be– but they’re also listening to their classmates and to social media and allowing outside forces and peer pressure to shape their choices. Think of how difficult it must be to do something as significant as determining and communicating who you are while also making sure that that newly forged individual also conforms to perceived norms.

Middle school students are old enough to know what’s happening in the world around them. They feel the sting of social wrongs, they process the consequences of natural disasters, and they grapple with negativity and debate in politics. Yet they also worry about their shoes and hair, with whom they eat lunch, how many text messages or group chats they receive, and what their favorite celebrities are doing.

Let’s Give These Kids a Break

Can you imagine living for years as a ‘tween in the age-related sense of the word but also in the headache-inducing, walking-contradiction version of literally being between? Phew, I’m exhausted just thinking about it, y’all. The blessing of middle school is the kids’ seeming blindness to the contradiction that they embody. I certainly wouldn’t want to go back and do it all again with that 20/20 hindsight.

The Atlantic published an article in October of 2019 about the resurgence of the middle school movement, specifically in regards to the inclusion of middle school with elementary and/or high school grades. There’s a quote from that article that I found particularly meaningful, and I want to share it here: adults must “embrace the messiness that is middle school.”

Don’t roll your eyes at it (leave that to the kids). Don’t let yourself be defeated by your child’s behavior. Take a deep breath and remember to embrace the messiness of middle school… just like you did when you were a ‘tween.

Katie M
Katie is a towboater’s wife and devoted mother to son, Olie (2015). She's lived across the Southeast and has been a proud, Mardi Gras-loving resident of New Orleans since 2008. Though she recently transitioned to the Communications Director role at her school, she is and will always be an educator at heart and a fierce advocate for gifted learners. Football season is her favorite time of year; she bleeds red and black for the Georgia Bulldogs and can be found cheering loudly with her fellow Who Dats in the Superdome. She enjoys making to-do lists, drinking too much iced coffee, and beating the guys in fantasy football.


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