Middle schoolers often get a bad rap. They are seen as one of the toughest groups to work with and rightfully so. This group has to navigate a world where they are not kids anymore but definitely not yet adults. They live in a gray area of puberty, new types of relationships, and entering the world of social media. These individuals are just starting to try to figure out who they are while the pressure to be something they are not push at them from all sides.
I am not a parent of middle schoolers yet. But as a middle school ELL teacher, I am in a very unique position where I have been allowed to sit in on their conversations and even asked to participate when more expert knowledge was needed. I have taken some notes and now am bringing it back to parents, to hopefully shed some light on your child during these challenging years.
Their Bodies Are a Hot Topic
Middle schoolers’ bodies are the biggest topic being discussed and, sadly, I would guess about ninety percent of these conversations are negative. My middle school boys are talking with their peers about needing more muscles, leaner bodies, and hairstyles that are not easily obtained with the beautiful hair they were given.
My middle school girls want to be thinner. They want to have a tiny waist, thick backside, and lower numbers on the scale. I have even had to have conversations about the dangers of “Detox Tea,” which is scary with any twelve year old but extremely disheartening when you realize that I mainly work with ELL students who are originally from refugee camps in Thailand. The toxic messages that are being pushed onto our children about body image are reaching ALL demographics.
Sex Is on Middle Schoolers’ Minds
Students are learning about sex from their friends. I know this might not be surprising, but middle schoolers learning about sex from other middle schoolers tends to be fraught with misinformation. They have no idea how their bodies work, and when communication is open, each student could fill a book with the number of questions they have. I once informed a student that a missed period did not mean they were pregnant, especially since she wasn’t sexually active.
Action Steps for Parents of Middle Schoolers
Communication! The more you talk to your middle schoolers, the more they will hopefully feel comfortable to come to you with their questions. If talking about sex is not your cup of tea, find someone that can have these conversations with your tween. I hate to have to say it, but you can not trust that their schools are giving them all the information that is needed (or that you personally might want them to have) to navigate the world as a middle schooler or beyond with regards to sex.
Self-love! This is a hard one for many of us. I have made a point to become more mindful this year about how I talk about my body in front of students. I am not perfect but I try to provide my middle schoolers with a model of positive body image. Just like any other subject in school, a lot of powerful learning comes from watching the adults around them.
I don’t want to leave you feeling negatively about the state of your tween. I have hope that this blog post does not describe ALL middle schoolers and even more hope that this is not new information to some of you reading this. Also, with all the challenges your tween has to face, they show me daily that they are inquisitive, creative, hilarious, and have the potential to change the world! If we are lucky, they will continue to let us be a part of their amazing journey as they move through middle school and beyond.