Arts & CultureKiddie Dope

How to Navigate Middle School: Tips From Those Who Survived

For all the hand-wringing that goes on about kids starting pre-K or kindergarten, there is just as much when kids start middle school. Of course, our kids would never let on that they’re doing any hand-wringing at all, but we as parents are all too willing to let our own anxieties take over. I think it’s time to take it down a notch.

Granted, I’m in a unique position—my daughter still has two years left in her elementary school, so the prospect of heading to a new school with a new schedule and new demands still seems far away. But I tend to think that we as parents remember our middle-school years—along with the angst, frustration and zits that went along with it—and believe our children will face the same fate. Well, they probably will. But you know what? You survived, and your child will, too.

Understand, though, I’m not just saying this because I’ve spent the past few nights going through old yearbooks, or because I’m a hopeless optimist (neither is true). Instead, I asked a few area high-schoolers who recently survived middle school, and they basically echoed my gut feeling.

So, what advice would those who recently survived middle school give those about to embark on the journey? Here you go:

Get to Know Your Teachers: I had a few students give this as their top bit of advice. Your teachers are there to help, and if you have problems or questions, they are happy to answer your questions. Also, they probably know when you’re lying anyway, so you might as well tell the truth. Some teachers also offer after-school help or tutoring, and you should take advantage of this.

Stay Out of Trouble: I know, sometimes this can be easier said than done. But obviously this is important. Pay attention to the rules (it’s really not that hard) and think twice before pulling that weird prank or pushing someone because they cut you off. Keep things in perspective and stay calm—everything will work out.

Be Organized: While I don’t have research to back this up, I truly believe that if you’re organized, you’ll likely avoid the pitfalls of the previous paragraph. Do your homework on time, preferably in a place where you can focus. Not only will this give you time to hang with your friends, but you’ll also be creating good study habits that will help a lot in high school and beyond. Come to class prepared, and get enough sleep the night before—falling asleep in class makes it hard to take notes. Or, you know, learn stuff.

Enjoy This Time: Sorry, it’s such a cliché. But among the former middle schoolers I talked with, this was an unspoken theme that came through in their advice. For as angsty and fraught with emotion as middle school can be, it’s also a great time to be a kid but also practice adulting. For example, at Clarke Middle, one of the cool things for kids to do is walk across the street after school and wait for their rides home at Jittery Joe’s. Imagine being able to leave your work, hang at a cool coffee shop and chat with your friends—only to know that someone you trust is coming to pick you up and take you home and make you dinner? It’s a blending of two worlds, and one where you can make mistakes but also learn a lot from them.

Don’t Freak Out: This is probably as much for the parents as for the kids. Not every grade will be an A (or a B, or a C). Lean on friends, teachers, administrators and your family for support when you need it. Middle school is an amazing time of transition and growth—you’re discovering new things about yourself and your friends, and you’re testing the boundaries set by your parents. You’re not always going to have a good time, but that’s OK—that’s life.

In my daily life I run into a lot of college students who are preparing to be teachers. Every so often I meet one who is planning to go into middle school, and they are always very specific about why they want to go into teaching. They truly love working with kids in these “middle grades” and are giddy about the opportunity. It’s an impressionable time, they all say, and they want to be a part of shaping their futures.

So to all my friends (and future babysitters) who are beginning their time in middle school, I say hang tight and enjoy the ride. To the parents of middle schoolers, hug your kids (even if they protest). Take their pictures (even if they won’t let you post them on social media) and keep asking about homework, friends and their feelings. You might not get answers, but they appreciate your interest.