And the Importance Of Trying to Understand It All
Middle school. Saying those two words out loud leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Maybe it’s because I distinctly remember the smells that pubescent children would leave behind in the hallways. Whether it was from a lack of hygiene or a lack of fart etiquette, frequently having to walk through those invisible pockets of stench in between classes was not a pleasant thing.
Beyond that, perhaps my middle school experience sucked because I left a lot of friends back in California and I naively thought entering the seventh grade at a new school in Minnesota would be a fantastic, exhilarating adventure. It was most definitely not. I had no concept of cliques until I had moved here and cliques had no concept of me once I did. My shy, introverted self struggled all the way up until my junior year in high school. It took four long years to climb out of my shell and wipe away the stains middle school had left behind.
I don’t envy my daughter’s youth at this moment in time. If it were possible, I wouldn’t mind switching places with her when she reaches her twenties (probably because I’d consider my college years to be my actual “glory days”) but I would never want to redo middle school again. I’m not sure there are too many people out there who would.
Is it me or are all middle schoolers just plain weird?
Even those of you who miraculously sailed through middle school relatively unscathed have to admit that tweenies today live in their own absurd universe. Unfortunately for most of us parents, we’ve been forced to remember a time in our lives that we would have happily repressed forever. Thanks to our middle school children, here we are once again but of course, all the rules have changed.
Isn’t that the true spirit of middle school though? The constantly changing rules and trends? This little fact really puts my parenting skills to the test since I haven’t even figured out how to use my Instagram or Snapchat accounts properly yet–I took a social media hiatus for a couple of years and had zero interest in these apps until recently. Due to my complete ineptness at integrating back into the online world, I am lagging far behind all the other parents out there, especially when it comes to navigating my way through these junior high years.
Is there another reason why am I not up to date on the current trends? Yeah. I just don’t give a flyin’ flip.
At least I haven’t, until now. I have never been totally concerned about what was in or what was out. I’m not saying I didn’t dress or do my hair in a way that fit in with the times occasionally but I didn’t solely adhere to the latest styles either. I liked being my own unique self and still do. That’s why when my daughter comes to me pleading for something simply because it’s VSCO (pronounced “visco”) I usually give her an eyeroll.
(FYI: VSCO is a photography app originally on the iPhone that a lot of social-savvy Instagrammers will use. A VSCO girl is on point with the latest trends and she leads a highly aesthetic lifestyle, comparable to the aesthetically pleasing VSCO app. According to my almost 12 year old, VSCO girls might be associated with things like Birkenstocks, Vans, Crocs, Nike long socks, Hydroflask water bottles, knotted or beaded bracelets, choker necklaces, anklets, hair clips, scrunchies, crop tops, drinks from Starbucks, LED lights, cute throw blankets and Polaroid cameras).
Now that you’re all caught up with that craziness, some other things my daughter does to garner further eyerolls from me include:
- Making numerous Tik Tok videos to join all the other narcissistic, self-aggrandizing peeps out there.
- Loudly singing some obnoxious song. I mean, LOUDLY.
- Suddenly breaking out into a dance out of nowhere like The Whoa or Helicopter Hands (even I know that The Floss is so over with and The Dab is dead so that’s sayin’ something).
- Incessantly asking for bottles and bottles of clear glue like a crack-fiend to feed her addiction during the slime-making era in which my carpet paid dearly for. Pretty sure we’re done with that now because we’ve moved on to friendship bracelets, thank goodness.
- Snapchatting half of her face, her shoulder, the carpet, the ceiling, or a piece of plastic fruit. Like, what?
To me, all of this was just stupid middle school silliness.
I didn’t see it as being anything important, hence, the rolling of my eyes. I’ve only been paying half attention to these things my daughter is currently into but I’m just now realizing, that means I’ve only been paying half attention to her.
When friends became bullies, I became ‘woke.’
My daughter went to a private school throughout her elementary school years and switched over to a public school last year in the sixth grade. She only knew a few people from her previous school and basically had to start over and make new friends. It seemed like she was getting along with a good group of girls (according to her and confirmed by her teachers), she was enjoying school, and had made the “A” honor roll every quarter.
I had always wondered, though, why my tweeny never really hung out with any of those friends. Going places with the other girls or having sleepovers were few and far between. This can’t be the norm, right? It seemed odd to me because that’s not how it was back in my day but then we didn’t have smartphones at that time either and smartphones changed everything in this world. She had assured me that all was good, she had plenty of friends and talked to them on snapchat or facetime regularly.
Towards the end of the year, things changed.
Friendships ended. Backstabbing happened. Bullying started. She began to feel like an outcast and alone.
I didn’t even know how to approach the situation to begin with, fearing whatever I did might make it worse. I gave as much advice as I could give and continued to monitor what was going on but my heart broke for her daily. Together we drew a line as to when we would seek further help from the counselors and the Dean. I had wondered if I had made a mistake by sending her to a new school.
Eventually, a couple of girls saw the injustice of all that was happening to my daughter and were brave enough, mature enough, and kind enough to step away from the childish drama and befriend my daughter on a more personal level. Most middle school girls wouldn’t do that (and many at her lunch table didn’t) because that would put themselves in front of the firing squad and who wants to be the next one in line to get shunned?
After that, most of it blew over but my daughter has now learned which friends are actually worth her time and which “friends” aren’t. I have learned how important it is to dig a little deeper and pay more attention to what is going on in her life. I really should’ve taken more note of those little things that didn’t make sense to me. In hindsight, I had neglected my mother’s intuition.
Everything just snuck up on me so fast.
We had just left the pure and innocent fifth grade and entered into the sixth dimensions of hell but neither one of us knew it until it was too late. I knew things would be different once we left our tiny, sheltered Catholic school but I wasn’t prepared for the sequel of Mean Girls to descend upon us so fast. I certainly didn’t realize how on top of things I needed to be so soon into these pre-teen years. I mean, it was Barbie and American Girl dolls just a minute ago, wasn’t it?
I don’t think paying attention to all of the silly things my daughter did or what new trend she was into on that particular day would’ve changed what happened at school. I do think it would’ve been less of a shock for me though, if only I had been a little more clued in to how middle school friendships actually work in this modern day and age. I definitely could’ve stepped in sooner to make sure the friendships my girl did have were developing beyond just friendly acquaintances.
I’m not interested in being a helicopter or bulldozer parent but I do recognize that I may have given my child too much freedom and independence that she wasn’t entirely ready for. In her mind and on the surface, everything was fine, until it wasn’t. Maybe if I had prodded her a bit more about her day, I could’ve spotted the red flags in the distance and at least warned her about what might have been coming. Then I could have let her decide on her own what to do with that info.
Parenting a middle school child is a tricky business because they are like tiny, independent adults in some ways, frequently demanding more leeway, more room to grow. At the same time, they are desperately in need of delicate guidance and nurturing. This can be quite confusing because sometimes you just don’t know where to start.
Those weird things your kid does/watches/behaves/wants? Take more notice of them, listen to them and ask about them. It’s easy to ignore the completely harmless nonsense your middle schooler comes up with every so often but these things are your conversation starters. They may drive you crazy and they may not make any sense to you, but they are important to your self-absorbed tween. Paying attention to these things is simply showing that you care and you might learn more about your middle schooler than you’d expect.
Should you spoil your kid rotten to help them get a leg up in the hope that they’ll belong to or remain in the popular crowd? Of course not. Should you allow your little girl to wear cut off jean shorts with her butt hanging out and a tight-ass crop top because every single tween to teen minion is wearing them this summer? Hell no. But if giving them a little extra something will help them to feel more inclusive in their own peer group then I don’t believe it’s such a bad idea–so long as you’re teaching them that these things do not define their worth.
I’m not going to buy my daughter the newest iPhone out there or blow my budget at Hollister anytime soon but if she wants to be a VSCO girl because that’s what she’s into this month, it’s not going to kill me to listen to her and indulge her for a moment. And if I happen to come across a Hydroflask or a pair of Vans in her size, I just might splurge and pick one up for her.
Who knows, one day I may even kick back with my VSCO girl-wannabe and watch a marathon of the Tik Tok videos she made. One day. With a heart full of mama’s love and a glass full of wine.
Oh my goodness can I relate to your post! So well said and I applaud your insights and lessons learned. I learned those same lessons with my now 18-year-old and you can bet I won’t make the same mistakes with my 13-year-old, oh no! When my oldest daughter was really struggling and I felt like I was at the end of my parent rope, I kept a photo nearby of her and I when she was little. We are cheek-to-cheek, hugging and smiling ear-to-ear. I used this photo to remind me that she needed me as much, if not more than when that photo was taken. She may not have acted like she did but she did. It lit the “Mama Grizzly” spirit in me and I was ready to take on another day. Your advice is so right on – get involved, know what’s going on. Check your kids phones. Limit social media (if not restrict it completely) and let them know – phone privacy does not exist! Good luck and stay strong! Cute pics!
It is easy to forget how much more they really need you sometimes, isn’t it? Especially when the sassiness is almost too much to handle–you just wanna check-out for a minute but that is probably the worst thing a mother can do and I was guilty of that occasionally. I see it now though and like your “Mama Grizzly,” I’m ready to plow through! Thank you for your kind words and encouragement!
Love love this post! My stepdaughter & her experience really opened my eyes to the middle school horrors now. I hadn’t given it much thought as I was into Lisa Frank and Bonnie Bell until high school in my day. Not even halfway through 6th grade my stepdaughter’s best friend from elementary had turned into a mean girl and has tormented her ever since. I took her to a party once and was shocked to see these 12 and 13 year old girls with full faces of makeup and sexy clothing. What the hell is happening to middle school?? My son starts 6th grade next month, he’s always been a silly, popular kid and he doesn’t tolerate people bullying each other. I’m hoping his experience is smoother and I’m hoping as my stepdaughter heads into 8th grade, that something changes and she has a better year. Thank you so much for your explanations of stuff I didn’t even know the words for!! 🤦🏻♀️ I have a lot to learn.
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Middle school is definitely scary! Thank my daughter for the explanations, she had to school me on all that stuff! I was shocked when I went to our city’s carnival recently and saw every single girl, middle schoolers included, in tight crop tops and butt-showing shorts or mini skirts. I mean, most of them didn’t even have boobs yet! My daughter was uncomfortable because she did her hair in cute pig tail buns and her outfit was super cute too but not slutty. It made me sad that she felt that way. I hope that she’ll, along with your stepdaughter and son, survive this upcoming year. Middle school has always been bad but I feel like things have gotten so much worse!
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