“If there is hell, it was modeled after junior high school.”
These are the words of comedian Lewis Black during a skit about the trials and tribulations of teens, puberty and school. Junior high school is now middle school. My son, Beckett, just completed his seventh-grade year at Worcester Prep.
Unlike most, he was in-person all year. It was a journey, but most of the challenging experiences we encountered had little to do with the pandemic. Middle school is a transition time in all aspects and therefore it’s especially difficult for all. There is puberty mixed in with increasingly difficult school work, higher expectations and a host of social challenges. The latter has been the gut wrenching aspect with our boy.
It was a school year of early teen struggles. Overall, he did well while playing three sports and taking part in numerous extracurricular activities. I did focus on those positives rather than the weekly troubles that brought concerns and frustrations. Somewhere along the way he became an avid skateboarder, a big fan of girls and learned what types of books he likes and despises.
An article, “8 Things I Know For Sure About (Most) Middle Schoolers,” I came across this week by middle school teacher Jennifer Gonzalez on cultofpedagogy.com hits particularly home. She shared what she learned teaching middle school for many years.
- They care more about the opinions of their peers than pretty much anything else. This means they will sometimes do things that make no sense, like not turning in an assignment you know they worked hard on, because they just found out they will have to read it out loud in front of the class. Or refusing your offer of a chocolate milk, even though they love chocolate milk, because someone else is around who recently declared all chocolate milk to be babyish. …
- They are horrified by what their bodies are doing. For those of us who are well past adolescence, it’s easy to forget what it was like to deal with the constant betrayal that comes with a new body: There you are, going about your regular kid business, when one day your skin explodes with zits. Popping them turns out to make them even more noticeable. … Every couple of weeks, some new phenomenon introduces itself into the middle schooler’s physical life, threatening to destroy their social lives until high school graduation.
- They trend toward hyperbole. Whether it’s due to limited life experience, hormones wreaking havoc on emotions, or the trying on of identities, young adolescents tend to exaggerate just a bit.
- They are mortified by public praise. Elementary school kids seem to delight in being recognized in front of their peers … But pull a middle school kid up in front of his peers to wax poetic on his good qualities, and you may see that kid shrivel up like an old grape. …
- They can’t be trusted. Middle school kids may have every intention of keeping confidential information to themselves, but when an opportunity to share presents itself, they won’t be able to resist being the one who’s in the know. At this age, they don’t yet understand the consequences that can result from sharing something that’s not meant to be shared. Treat your middle school kids the same way you should treat the internet: Don’t share anything you aren’t willing to see broadcast in public.
- They just now realized you are a human being. Wait, never mind. Right around age 11 or 12 is when people typically enter the final stage … where they start to understand that others might experience the world differently than they do. But getting firmly into this stage takes time, and it’s a bumpy road. … Enjoy the admiration and interest when you get it, but don’t be surprised if there are times when they forget you exist at all.
- They are pulling away from their parents. I can’t count the number of parents who told me their kids barely told them anything anymore, who said they had no idea what their kids’ school lives were like. Pulling away from parents is a normal part of adolescence. Although kids this age need adult guidance possibly more than at any other time in their lives, they have reached the point where their parents may be the last ones they’ll look to for it.
- They are still kids. One minute you’re having a deep philosophical discussion with them about the symbolism in a Robert Frost poem, they’re really getting it, and you can almost see them maturing right before your eyes. Ten minutes later they’re making armpit farts and asking if it’s okay to drink the water from the fish tank. And then there’s the wiggling — an almost unbearable amount of it, especially from the boys. …
Most of the time, when I told someone I was a middle-school teacher I got the same basic reaction: They’d wince, or say whoa, and then add something along the lines of “Tough age.” And I would smile and nod, knowing that tough didn’t begin to cover it. One word could never quite capture the ridiculous, smelly, stubborn, fragile beauty of them all.