As the summer draws to a close it is already time to start thinking about back to school. Here in the Northeast we still have a few more weeks of rest and relaxation. My friends in the South however, have already welcomed their kids back from camp and are preparing for the beginning of another school year.
For most kids the majority of their tweenage years are spent in Middle School. I have always appreciated and even envied my friends who’s kids did not have to make that transition due to K-8 schools or home schooling.
Talk to a teen in the thick of their high school years and most of them will indeed tell you ‘Middle school sucked!’ The good news however, is that this revelation usual comes on reflection back on the time, not during the experience.
‘Why do teens say middle school sucks,’ you are perhaps wondering. Well, much of the reasoning has to do with plain old developmental factors. Between the ages of around 11-14 the majority of kids go through major developmental changes. Many of those changes are obvious some are not. Their physique changes as they hit puberty. While these days we tend to well prepare our kids for these changes with parent talks and in health classes, many of our kids experience feelings of uncertainty and even discomfort regarding these changes.
I have heard many describe the Middle School years as the ‘mean’ years. Research tells us that bullying is indeed at an all-time high for kids during this period in their lives. In reality this is no coincidence. As our children begin the search for self which will lead them through tweenhood, teenhood and eventually on to young adulthood, they can initially feel insecure and unsure of who they are and who they want to be.
For many tweens this insecurity leaves them searching for ways to affirm and empower themselves. Unfortunately their immature minds sometimes lead them back to the basics of those in power and those who feel powerless. This struggle can play itself out in the catty conversations you can often hear play out if you walk the halls of middle school in between classes when kids are at their lockers or take walk into the cafeteria at lunch time.
Few tweens are shielded from this banal banter. Although the intent is certainly not to be mean spirited it can often be perceived this way. Comments about what other kids are wearing, doing and saying are indeed the norm. I would welcome the opportunity to meet the parent who can honestly report that their tween has never engaged with their friends is this type of talk.
It is part of development. Of course there are extremes. The good news is that you have taught your tweens well. The majority of them will rarely take this talk out of their circle of friends with the intent of hurting another peer. Although on occasion there is the some ‘drama’ as the kids refer to it aka plain old bully like behavior.
You know the drill. One friend says something about a mutual friend to another friend and the second friend runs and tells the first friend. Better judgment would suggest that telling the friend that he/she is being talked about is hurtful and certainly not helpful as the second friend may contend. This type of behavior does however reflect the lack of perspective taking tweens tend to utilize. It is not that they are unable to use this type of foresight it is simply that from a developmental stand point, it is not their natural inclination.
In addition this behavior is part of the dog eat dog world in which tweens find themselves. Everyone wants to be top dog and sometimes this means climbing over others to get there. Relax, I do not mean literally.
Not long ago I dropped my own child off on her first day of Middle School. While I held it together for her, I burst out crying as I drove away. Although as a child psychologist I have much insight into the ups and downs of the Middle School experience, I did not cry because I felt bad, nervous or upset for her. No, in reality it was all about me! My baby was growing up. The poise and confidence with which she strode into that school reassured me that she would indeed be able to negotiate this new situation.
In reality, the tween years are the wonder years. While they are filled with ups and downs victories and defeats, they are an incredible period of physical, emotional, and social development. When tweens grow into teens and move on to their high school years, they are not the same children you sent off to middle school. Savor every moment, and most of all enjoy the madness, in the blink of an eye they will be all grown up!