I went to a middle school football game this week for the first time in… thirty-three years. As I walked into the stadium, and looked around, I suddenly had the same heebie jeebie feelings crawling up my spine that were there thirty-three years ago. I had to remind myself, “You are a grown up with a college degree and a professional career. You have nothing to prove here.”
Of all the years of my life, if I had to discard any three, it would be the three years I spent in middle school. Why? The middle school years are some of the most vulnerable years of a person’s life- physically, socially, educationally, and… spiritually.
Middle school students aren’t cute little kids anymore. They smell weird, they act weird, and they haven’t got a clue about much of anything. Hormones start to kick in in varying rates, which make for interesting variations on the developmental theme.
One seventh grade boy still looks like his baby pictures, while another needs to shave. Twice a day. And girls? What’s going on with middle school girls these days? The word for the day with middle school girls is: Aggressive.
My youngest son is in middle school. He’s the last of my four kids to traverse this path. Praise God. I have recently noticed that he and his best friend are rarely without a female entourage. I say entourage because there are never less than five girls, which is the official number to comprise an entourage.
I noticed one girl in particular was crushing on Evan’s friend. It’s not that he’s not great. He is, but the truth is he doesn’t have a clue. It’s okay, he’s not supposed to yet. I pulled her aside and said, “Don’t give your heart away to him. He hasn’t got a clue what to do with it yet. And he won’t for a while. You’re wasting your time.” I’m pretty sure she didn’t listen to me. Hormones.
I come across bewildered middle school parents a lot. They are shell-shocked. It’s usually the “deer in headlights” look that gives them away, especially if it’s their first child to hit this milestone. They cruised through elementary school, and were lulled into a false sense of security when, WHAM! Their sweet child was passed on to middle school, and they’re not sure what happened or why.
Their once sweet tempered, cuddly child has become a brooding, distant alien from another planet. What’s a parent to do? As tempting as it is to send them back to the mother ship, there are some ways to get through these years of eruptions, expansions, and emotions without losing your mind.
The vulnerabilities I mentioned earlier will begin to gel for your child as time goes on, and you’ll want those to solidify in healthy ways.
The physical changes your child experiences will move through fairly predictable stages. There should be no subject that is off limits in this area. They’ll get their information from someone; you want it to be you. They need to know that everyone, even you, has gone through what they are going through. They need to know this is God’s plan to grow their bodies into the adults they will be one day.
During middle school, kids tend to settle socially into a group of friends they will cling to for the next several years. Parents don’t want to be asleep at the wheel on this one. As the saying goes, “Show me your friends, I’ll show you your future.” Be proactive. Help your child choose wisely to whom he or she will give their time and energy. Help them learn how to develop friendships that are life giving. This is a lesson that will serve them well for a lifetime.
Middle school kids begin to expand their horizons educationally. More elective classes offer them opportunities to try new things, discover new interests. Kids need to know they were made for a purpose and the best way to discover that can be in trying new things.
Students who breezed through elementary school on the honor roll, may suddenly find making the grade in middle school a challenge. The key is not to panic. Give your student some room to fail. Get them help if they need it, but most likely, the issue will work itself out when the physical and social vulnerabilities begin to solidify. We’re not heading to college yet, one or two bad grades won’t have them flipping burgers for the rest of their lives.
That leaves the spiritual vulnerability of middle school students. As this is certainly the most important factor for a middle school student, and since it affects all other areas of your student’s life, I’m going to focus on that in “Middle School Madness: The Sequel”. Stay tuned…