Helpful ways of preparing for middle school awkwardness and social shifts
By Lisa Tiano, Parenting and teen expert, author and founder of REAL TeenTalk and InnerStarGirl
Middle school can be awesome, and perhaps awkward as well. When it was my time in junior high (that should detect my age), the awkward phase meant braces and glasses, and maybe those hideous orthopedic shoes. Nowadays, middle school awkwardness means a lot of other things too.
Entering middle school doesn’t have to be about navigating the impossible, and it certainly won’t define your child either. For all those parents who may even be struggling with the notion “what if middle school crushes my son or daughter?”, here are some life tips that are good conversation starters with your children who will be matriculating soon into those questionable years ahead.
1. Change is Good
Change can be hard for everyone – even for adults. So, when you’re having these real, authentic discussions with your kids, keep that in mind and don’t be afraid to elaborate. Change is a healthy, normal part of life. You can’t be in the same situation forever, and whether it comes to your personal and social life, or academic and professional life, things will change and so will your perspective. Friends will shift over time (for both children and adults). Kids will survive middle school, no matter what happens, no matter what friends they’ll make or lose, and their academics will change, and get more rigorous as well. They’ll learn to adapt, quickly. It’s their mindset that you’ll need to talk about during the next three years. Get ready and be prepared. You’ll survive too.
2. Confidence & Self-Esteem
In helping dozens of parents over the years, I realized that one key element was missing from kids adjusting and trying to fit in with their peers. They lacked good self-esteem. Why this is so essential in navigating those awkward middle school years is because their environment is not only larger, but the social hierarchy grows beyond their wildest imagination. Different peer groups and “popular” groups suddenly makes kids look inward, questioning their own self-worth. They may question why they’re not included or why their close friends and bff’s are not the same friends they were when they entered middle school. Regardless of whatever insecurities they’re experiencing, they should never lose themselves in the process and follow what they don’t feel is right to them. Staying true to themselves is key during these questionable years.
3. Gaining Resiliency
Everyone fails. We’re not perfect and we’re not robots. Thank goodness. I was the worst math student and to this day, I don’t like math. I had an awful math experience in junior high (can’t blame it all on the teacher) and it just wasn’t a subject that clicked with me. I had math tutors to help me, but I still never did well in that subject. So, needless to say, I may have failed a few quizzes and tests, but I turned out okay. I went on to graduate high school, college and even received a Master’s Degree (in English Literature). What all this means is that we become resilient with obstacles and challenges. Not everything in life is easy. You can be the hardest working student and still fail an exam or do poorly on a test. And, that’s ok. Resiliency is one of the most crucial learning lessons in life, and hopefully we learn from our mistakes and failures.
4. Using Your Voice In A Positive Way
Sometimes conflict can manifest itself in different ways. Conflict can be within yourself, and something that you’re struggling with personally, or it can be having conflict with someone else. Regardless of that challenge, you now have to learn how to deal with that conflict, right? So, if someone is gossiping about your child at school, or asking him to help cheat on a test, now is the time to have those discussions with your child – discussing ways that she or he can use their voice in a positive way so when certain situations arise, they’ll know how to advocate for themselves without mom or dad stepping in. This is the only way they’ll mature, and learn that speaking up doesn’t mean they’re nasty or bossy. It simply means they’ll know how to speak up in situations that hurt them or don’t benefit them in any way.
5. Surround Yourself With Good People
We all need friends who we feel safe with and comfortable to be around. This support may be confusing during the middle school years. Friends shift and change, so our expectations can make us feel more or less tolerable of people. Regardless of any age, you should always surround yourself with those who make you feel good about yourself. Friends who put you down or who make you question who you are aren’t the kind of friends you want to associate with anyway. So, in my opinion, no matter what age, you should never compromise your values or self-worth. Keep the friends who treat you well and drop the ones who tear you down or drain you.
Bottom line – embrace the awkwardness. Whether it’s hard or uncomfortable, your middle schooler will embark on new adventures. Be careful of your reactions and the way you respond to this time in their lives. They pick up on your energy and the last thing you want is for the whole family to become stressed out before they even entered the middle school campus. Your child will learn some invaluable lessons in the years to come – they’ll experience lots of change. They’ll learn how to choose friends wisely, how to advocate for themselves, become more resilient, and hopefully gain confidence as they mature. Trust me, they’ll survive middle school. And, so will you.