parenting

Encouragement for Your Middle School Girl

I’ve nearly reached the glorious stage of parenting where I no longer have a middle schooler. Middle school is that time in our lives that can feel like the ultimate fork in the road.  It’s make-it or break-it time. You’re morphing from a child into a mini-grown-up version of your future self. And that seems to be where the trouble comes in.

Middle school is the “in between” years. There’s nothing worse than being stuck in the “in between”. The “in between” is not always a lot of fun (in between jobs, in between moves, in between pant sizes (I’m looking at you, week-long vacation). However, there is no “in between” quite like the “in between” of middle school. Your kid isn’t quite as cute and fresh as their former elementary-age selves. And they aren’t yet of the age where they can drive themselves to practice, earn their own money for the newest gadget, and haven’t even come close to thinking about their life as a future adult with responsibility.

My daughters were recently cleaning out their closets and came across a notebook that contained writing from my oldest. She is now in high school, but she had written the following advice as a gift to her younger sister in anticipation of her first days of middle school. It was a list of four important notes to remember.

  • Avoid talking to the boys. Most of them are weird. (*author’s note: She’s not wrong.)
  • There are showers in the locker room. Don’t use them. There’s never any time. (*another author’s note: Raise your hand if you remember watching classic 80’s teen movies and being terrified of finding yourself in some mortifying locker room scenario one day?!)
  • Sit in the front of the lunchroom if possible. The back is always crowded.
  • Sometimes there’s free chocolate milk on the fruit cart.

That last bit perplexed me, so I inquired about this interesting advice. My daughter explained that kids who buy their lunch will take more than one milk, and they don’t always drink them all. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, they will leave unopened (yes, I clarified) milk cartons on the fruit cart when throwing their trash away. Sometimes, it’s even chocolate milk.

Free. Chocolate. Milk. Now that’s something to look forward to!

A Few Tips as You Begin Middle School

This year, my youngest, already seasoned with two years under her belt, will be rounding out her last year in middle school. While I can say that it hasn’t always been enjoyable, valuable lessons have been learned along the way. I have a few of my own suggestions – from the perspective of a Middle School Mama. Maybe some of these points will resonate with you. My prayer is that these perspectives will give you something to talk about with your middle school daughter, and help ease both of your worries just a bit as you approach the new phase in her life.

  1. Find your people.

This cannot be overstated. We moved to our current town when my oldest was sandwiched in between her 6th and 8th grade years. She hopped around different friend groups, trying to figure out where she belonged. Not surprisingly, it took a few tries. She eventually found common ground in a group of girls who participated in the same sport as her. Some of them were also in choir, and they connected through one of her greatest passions – music. Encourage your child to connect with people who share similar interests and values. It’s important to have friends with different beliefs for sure, but in the end, her people will be those she can create bonds and memories with in the long run. Working together for a common goal, such as a district meet or an all-city music competition, is a great way to build these relationships.

2. Step out of your comfort zone and try lots of new things.

Take different classes than you normally would, or go out for a sport you’ve never played. My daughter took an acting class. She met some new friends and learned a whole new skill set.  None of her friends were in the class and it almost stopped her at first, but she learned a lot about herself and what she was capable of! My youngest daughter had never played organized volleyball before, but at the last minute decided to try out for the school team. She made the team and instantly had a group of 12 new friends. She learned that she could do hard things and that she was brave enough to try something scary, even when she wasn’t assured of the outcome. Come to think of it, maybe I should have her give me a little life coaching on the side!

3. You might have tough days, and you’ll come out stronger for it.

Maybe you experienced bullying in middle school. Maybe you’re worried your child will.  Social acceptance is a huge concern for parents and students alike. Middle school shines a spotlight on our biggest insecurities. But, it‘s a time where we figure out just who we are, who will encourage us, how we respond to those who are different from us, what issues matters the most to us, and what we’re willing to fight for. Other times we learn to choose our battles. Getting up each day and facing trials will eventually shape who our children become. Middle school is like boot camp that prepares us for the battles of life. There is no shortcut to learning the lessons that life hurls at us. We go through tough times, and come out stronger on the other side.

4. Moms, listen to your girl.

Ask about her day. Her classes. Her friends.  Be willing to have the tough conversations – things are extremely different for our young teens than they ever were for us. As a brand new teen, my biggest concern centered around how high I could tease my bangs and keeping my sister off the cordless phone in case my crush tried to call and, heaven forbid, he would get a busy signal. Our girls are facing social pressures and issues that we never dreamed of having to encounter at such an early age. Be her safe place and be her guide. Share your values and beliefs and why they matter to you. Ask what her opinions are.  Most importantly, love her and encourage her every step of the way. You might discover that you’ll grow right along with her.

5. You are enough, just as you are.

“You are fearfully and wonderfully made” Psalm 139:13-14 (ESV) †

This is a verse that I have committed to memory. It’s critical, even as adults, not to seek our self-worth from others. You’ll find it’s a daily battle for many of us. Remind your daughter that she is exactly who she was created to be. The athlete. The math genius. The redheaded trumpet player. The quiet one in the back of the room. She was made to fulfill a purpose that no one else can accomplish.

It’s natural to look around, wondering how we fit into the whole picture. Your purpose has significance. God created you to be exactly who you are, exactly where you are. Cling to this truth and always remember whose you are. When you know who you belong to, it can help avoid the temptation of trying to become someone you aren’t.

Training for the Real World

It may surprise you to hear me say that middle school hasn’t exactly been the nightmare everyone warned it would be. Sure, there were highs and lows, but tough life lessons produce character and change us by making us stronger, ready to face future challenges. Middle school provides opportunities to accept consequences of your actions, get along with less-than-desirable personalities, and discover how much we really can accomplish when we put in the effort.

These are just a few parting gifts she’ll receive for successfully navigating the three-year dumpster fire she just endured. Great job, kiddo. You survived. Now you’re ready for the real, grown-up world filled with speeding tickets (even if it “wasn’t your fault”), bosses with unreasonable expectations, and the ability to love yourself no matter how much your acne flares up (yes, this will still happen when you’re 42 and sharing a Costco-sized bottle of salicylic acid with your own teens).

Middle school is the “in between” of adolescence. It comes with a horrendous reputation and packs quite a punch when it comes to finding out what you’re really made of. When trials and struggles come with this new chapter in life, take a minute to look around and realize all the good that is also emerging. You just have to remember to keep looking for the chocolate milk on the fruit cart.

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