I recently asked my freshman English students, “If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your middle school self that you now know?” I challenged them to reflect on this question and write about it, drawing from their own experience to offer advice to current middle schoolers and parents. Their responses were honest and thoughtful.
While some life lessons are best learned through experience, I want to share some of my students’ reflections in hopes of providing insight that may be helpful to other students (and parents) currently wading through middle school. As one of my students put it, “My middle school experience was very good. Nevertheless, I believe that it could have been excellent if someone would have told me not to sweat as many things as I did.”
Interestingly, there were some common threads of lessons my students shared in their reflections related to friends, self-confidence, grades, and needs from parents during the middle school years. Here are some of their thoughts on…
Friends in Middle School
“Middle school is a huge jump from elementary school because typically there are a lot more kids in your grade. I was nervous about meeting the new kids and wondering if we would like each other. Middle school is a completely new environment, so don’t worry about being popular. It is most important to find a friend group that fits you. Kids change a lot in middle school so you might change friend groups many times between your sixth and eighth grade year and that is okay. Sometimes it can be hard if you change friends, but eventually it will all work out for the best.”
“Often, students are always trying to fit in and be cool. Middle schoolers are the main culprit of this because at this age most of them are trying to figure out who they are. Kids need to become friend with the kids who are nicest to them, and they should be themselves. Students who are friends with those nicest to them have better [fonder] memories than students that are always worried about fitting in."
Self-Confidence in Middle School
“Remember to remind us our identity and confidence is found in Christ, not in the thoughts or opinions of others. During my middle school years, I was, and still am, extremely self-conscious, and I often worried about what others thought of me.”
“Middle school students are very judgmental. I remember always feeling like I had to look my best. If not, my self-confidence lowered which caused me to be distracted throughout the school day. If your child seems to be struggling with their self-confidence, remind them that they are amazing.”
Grades in Middle School
“Students want to do well in school because they feel pressure from the parents. Middle schoolers should not fret about these things because their grades do not count towards anything except for a few classes. All the parents should do is encourage their students to try their best because middle school is a time to have fun."
“During middle school, I was worried about getting good grades because I did not want to get grounded by my parents for bad grades. Turns out that your middle school grades don’t count when trying to get into college. I am not saying that you shouldn’t care about your grades, but you should use your time in middle school to form good study habits for high school.”
“Grades are indeed very important. However, my mom would always pushed me to get As. Having this stress made me anxious and irritable. But now that I am in high school, I have learned that middle school grades honestly do not matter as much as I once thought. So, if your child seems overly stressed about grades, remind them that getting a B in middle school IS OK. And that what matters is that they are trying their best.”
“Students want to do well in school because they feel pressure from the parents. Middle schoolers should not fret about these things because their grades do not count towards anything except for a few classes. All the parents should do is encourage their students to try their best because middle school is a time to have fun.”
Needs from Parents in Middle School
“Parents should push their kids to try new sports and try their best. They should make sure their kids know that the most important thing is that they try their best and have fun because middle school sports are not the Olympics and it is not the end of the world."
“Offer constructive criticism to encourage our growth. Even during the moments when we are surprised with high scores, praise our hard work. When you do this, we feel loved knowing you are proud of us.”
“Some days we don’t even know why we feel or say the things we do, but don’t be fooled: We are paying attention to your ever word and action even if we are choosing to be silent.”
“Middle school is the time for your child to discover and grow themselves as an individual. Be sure to remind your child that this is their time to grow and discover who they are. Also remind them that you are there to help them grow, and that it does not happen overnight.”