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Middle School Woes

By Kylie Turley

My daughter attended her first day of middle school on Monday. I’ve been in minor crisis about it for weeks. All anyone has told me is how awful middle school is, how the choices we faced in high school and college (drugs, drinking, sex, etc.) are now the choices of middle school. My girl is mature, but there is no 12 year old on the face of the planet mature enough to deal with those things. And those are just the obvious evils. What about the regular, everyday concerns: who do I eat lunch with? and why is everyone else wearing ____ -type jeans this year?

I read Rosalind Wiseman’s Queen Bees and Wannabes (the book is the basis for the “Mean Girls” movie) to figure out how to help my daughter. Like I said, I’ve been upset at the thought of middle school, and this book made it worse because I suddenly remembered how it was. I’m not a swearing woman, but if I were, I’d let loose a string of words that could burn your ears.

Do you remember the feelings of junior high? It’s hard to look back now—because we’re so darn rational. Until I read the book, I kept thinking conversations with my daughter in my mind, “You think it’s hard to sit by someone new at lunch? Try paying a mortgage!” or “Honey, you’re a beautiful, righteous, wonderful girl. Just don’t care about what those other girls say.”

Easy for me to say. Now. Then was a whole different story. Wiseman argues that the intensity of a young girl’s feelings for friends and social situations matches or even exceeds the intensity of emotion a woman feels in intimate relationships later in life. I know those feelings, that desperate fear, that aching loneliness, the brittle shell of popularity/intelligence/beauty that covers it all. Looking back now, I know that I was okay then, that underneath it all was a rock of testimony and faith and a knowledge that God loved me. But dang it was hard at the time. Remember?

About Kylie Turley

Kylie Nielson Turley’s sister, Jadey, wants to say that she was jealous of Kylie’s hair in high school, she remembers doing the ironing, and she thinks the boys loved Kylie, not her. Like her sister, Jadey is thrilled that high school is over. Kylie wants everyone to know that in spite of her facetiousness, she is actually glad she has any hair at all after being on a mild dose of chemotherapy for the last six months.

27 thoughts on “Middle School Woes”

  1. Here are a few of my memories of middle school:

    Being in a student government class (but not an elected officer) and having to give a leadership presentation. We were supposed to do it in pairs, but the class had an odd number of students, and–you guess it–I ended up the only one doing a presentation alone.

    Riding the bus home one day when a boy "flirted" with me by grabbing me around the waist as we got on the bus. I turned around and decked him! We both got in trouble with the bus driver, and I was mortified. For years, this was one of my most embarrassing moments, until I mentioned it on a message board once and someone else pointed out that in reality, it was a very empowering moment as I stood up for myself and didn't take anything from this guy. That changed my whole outlook on the experience. Decking him is exactly what I should have done, and now I'm proud I did!

    Having someone tape a mean note on my back.

    I was the "mean girl" once. I didn't have many friends, but I had a best friend. When she started to be friends with someone else, I couldn't deal with the feelings of rejection. So another friend and I retaliated by leaving horribly cruel notes in her locking making fun of her appearance and clothing. To this day I wish I could go back and re-do that. But it didn't happen because I was such a mean, cruel person. It happened because I was an immature person who didn't know how to communicate with my friend.

    My friend got back at me the next year by joining with some others in whispering names about me whenever I walked into class.

    I think one of the most important skills we can give our kids at this age is the ability to handle their emotions–to recognize and talk about emotions, and to communicate more effectively. I think that would have saved me a lot of grief in junior high. My parents never had any idea of this situation with my friend. Of course I wasn't going to tell them what I had done. But I wish I could have had some coaching in how to handle my own feelings.

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  2. Eighth grade was probably the worst year of my pre-adult life. My son is now in eighth grade. When he got through 7th unscathed, I thought that hey, maybe these years won't be so hard. Then I realized he's a boy. Next year when I have a daughter in 7th, it'll be a different (emotional rollercoaster, hormonal freakshow) animal. I'm bracing myself.

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  3. eljee, I was cringing for you. Those are the things I was talking about. Now you're okay, but put yourself back in the moment and the emotions are almost too much to handle. My problem was creating a facade of handling it all fine–it cut me off from all sorts of help from parents, church leaders, etc. I want to help my daughter not make the same mistake–but parents are the dumb ones right now. Though she would never say that because she's so nice.

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  4. My son is starting 7th grade, too. He's excited . . . but I can't help being nervous for him, too. So many changes, so much to navigate. He's a truly kind and caring person and I hope that those traits will serve him well.

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  5. My daughter in 7th doesn't seem to hate it as much as I did (we start M.S. in 6th grade here so she already has one year under her belt.) But she's more independent and mentally strong than I was. She also couldn't care less about clothes and boys, which is most definitely the key to Middle School happiness.
    I would go back to Middle School for a million dollars. Well, maybe for a million, but not much less than that.

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  6. 7th and 8th were very hard, but my worst year was 9th grade. My family had just moved to a new school and I knew no one. I remember going into a bathroom stall and sitting on the toilet eating my home lunch just waiting for lunch to be over. Once I finally made a new friend, any time she wasn't at school I did the same thing. It took months for me to come out of my shell (or stall, ha ha).

    Monday my daughter started 9th grade (yes, Jr. High was rough, girls can be so mean). She said it was her best day ever, bopped around, so happy. Yesterday same child got in the car after school with huge tears in her eyes. It seemed everything that could go wrong – did. She had to switch a class, her friends left her behind at lunch and went off campus to eat without inviting her, her teachers were weird, her team coach called a practice for 5:30 am today, and on and on…there was no calming her. Major meltdown. So bad that I had to leave the house, both for her to calm down, and for me to.

    Please someone tell me it gets better…why can't life just be a little easier for these awesome children of God. I've had two kids finish high school. This is my baby. She is the most awesome child, but life just seems to be slamming her.

    I just keep telling my kids that most people just don't think. They aren't really trying to be mean – they're just looking out for number one. At least that's my hope. I really don't want to think that people are just mean.

    Schools out in a couple of hours – let's just hope today had a little improvement. Please, please let there be a silver lining. I really don't want to have to deal with this every day!

    I have to ask, is it just this bad for girls? I only have daughters and the hormones that rage in my house are unbelievable.

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  7. I don't have a middle school aged child (my oldest is in 2nd grade), but I sure do remember Junior High (middle school for me). I remember the permed hair, the acne, the braces, the tallness (I've been 5'10" since I was 14), and the constant stream of insults hurled my way.
    I was awkward around boys, I was mortified if my teacher's had to discipline me in anyway, and I was bullied in the 6th grade by some older girls (until the teachers and principal got involved). But the truth of it all?
    It passed so quickly.
    At the time, I thought my life was over, but then I would go to sleep, wake up, and life would resume and even though things didn't change, somehow I coped. All it took was a family vacation, or a distraction of some kind, and my life wasn't as bad as it looked.

    I'm not trying to say that all junior high kids feel this way, but I'm betting most kids are far more resiliant than we give them credit for. Junior high is hard, for sure, but the things we think will scar our children for life usually don't. At least in my experience. Extreme examples out there? For sure! But around the board? Average? I'm thinking it's more common for those experiences to slough off as high school approaches.

    But I reserve the right to be wrong. 😉

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  8. Kylie, I defintely put up the facade too. I don't think my parents to this day have any clue that ANY of this stuff happened to me. At the time, I felt too vulnerable. I didn't want my parents to know about it. I too want my kids to be able to talk about these kinds of things with me. I want to prepare them, but now that I'm actually a mom, I have no clue how.

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  9. We moved to another city in the middle of 7th grade. It took me well into my Sophomore or even Junior year to recover from it. I was a complete emotional trainwreck, and it was SO hard to make new friends at that age.

    I remember it too well. But somehow I don't worry about my kids as much as I remember the pain. My kids are WAY more rational than I ever was as a kid.

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  10. I remember heartache over boys. A lot. I remember swearing. A lot. I know my head would be in the sand if I said that LDS girls don't have the same kinds of pressures than non-LDS girls do (I wasn't LDS at the time) but I do think the way we defer dating until 16 helps our kids mature a little bit before they're as caught up in having boyfriends as I was at 12 and 13. Seriously– it ruled my existence at that time. Other than that, middle school was pretty darn great. The best part? Eating pizza, french fries and ice cream every day. If I could be twelve again and going through a seven-inch growth spurt and put away 1500 calories at lunch every day, I think I might just do it…

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  11. As I read this, I'm surprised to find myself having more good memories of Junior High than bad. School was my refuge, because I was a good student and loved having something I excelled at. I remember having a lot of really fun, silly times in Junior High. That said, my seventh grade was swallowed up with having a boyfriend and belaboring over knowing I shouldn't have a boyfriend at that age but I liked him "so much" (we never kissed or held hands or even sat by each other . . . just walked to the bus stop and talked while we waited for his bus, and I journaled about hoping we would get married someday–so silly, that "going together" thing).

    In 8th grade I joined the choir, hung out in the choir/band room, and discovered I really loved playing the piano, even though I'd quit lessons the year before because I was "just too busy," and I really liked BOYS who could play fun things on the piano.

    There were the painful things, too . . . wearing home-made jeans because we couldn't find any long enough for my 36 inseam, getting hit by a mean girl in P.E. and feeling helpless because I didn't know what to do (cuz, y'know, hitting back was bad), feeling mortified when somebody wrote something nasty on my locker, oh and the drama of friends. Things were more difficult at home, though, so school was my escape, and I had a lot of fun.

    I knew there were kids who smoked marijuana and had sex, but it was so not the norm. I try to find a balance of preparing myself for eight to twelve years from now when our son is nearing junior high, and not thinking about it because it is totally scary if I think hard enough.

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  12. Not to start up 'true confessions' but I did all those things in jr. high that are parents' worst fears. Guess what, I survived. I found out early I didn't want to do drugs, drink, sleep around, or run away from home. At 14 I found my testimony and never looked back.

    My advice, never let your kids see you sweat. If they see you worried about them, they'll begin to worry too. (I'm speaking about general issues- boys, friends, clothes, social awkwardness) If you show confidence in their abilities, in their ability to overcome unpleasantness, they will look for that in themselves. They have alot of life to live after jr high and if they don't learn certain lessons there it will be even harder to learn them later.

    I have a daughter entering 8th. We talk about the unpleasantness that is jr high, but I won't let her avoid uncomfortable situations. If they do, they'll always fear. As cheryl said, life moves quickly. If they face it they gain confidence and are better equiped for the next challenge. They can do it!

    Face it any teenager who has a mother frequenting this site has a better than average chance of coming out of adolescence a success.

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  13. In the area I grew up in, stuff like sex and drugs were junior high issues (and this was about 17-18 years ago). I also have mixed memories of junior high. My first week of seventh grade this boy decided he liked me and started following me everywhere and flirting with me. I was a very naive, nerdy 12-year old and it freaked me out. After a few days he asked me to "go out with him" and I didn't even know what that meant. I told him I couldn't date until 16 and after that he pretty much ignored me.

    There were also the guys in my GATE (yes, "gifted and talented") class that asked me every week if I was still a virgin. It really upset me, plus they would make fun of the fact that I was totally flat chested. The funny thing is that I got to be friends with them in high school and when I mentioned how miserable they made seventh grade for me they didn't really remember it. At all. Huh.

    So yeah, junior high wasn't that great for me for a lot of reasons. I think it was worse because I was not close to my mom at all and so I felt very lonely both at school and home. My dad was deployed in the Gulf War for the first half of seventh grade, so that didn't help either. My goal at this point is to try and maintain a close relationship with my daughter so she'll want to talk to me about things when she gets older. I'm worried because it seems like she already has my personality where she doesn't want to admit weakness or ask for help. She starts kindergarten next week, so we still have a few more years to work on things.

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  14. jendoop, I love the advice "never let them see you sweat", which is exactly why I have to put myself in time out sometimes. I am a firm believer that kids have to face their problems head on. But I have to say that there are definitely times when I'd like to intervene.

    Baby girl came home from school okay today, but I still think I'll be walking on egg shells for a little while.

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  15. I've got a girl going into 6-8 middle school in two weeks. I have different fears for her. I didn't have gangs in my middle school. The school officials play it down but the talk you hear from the custodians' relatives is different. I lived in a 90% LDS community when I was in school; here Mormons are the minority if present at all.

    I at least did well academically. That made up a little bit for my extreme shyness, braces, and total cluelessness about fashion. I figured the jerks who made fun of me were just stupid. The comments still hurt, but I tried to keep my mouth shut to avoid physical bullying.

    I got through middle school because I had one best friend, and a teacher in every grade that made me feel like I was something special and gave me a chance to contribute something above and beyond the normal schoolwork. And my dad worked right across the street. If I didn't want to eat lunch in the lunchroom, I could always hang out in a spare office.

    I'm praying my daughter finds a true friend. Just one.

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  16. Mormonhermitmom, my best friend moved after we started 7th grade. That was what made it so bad for me. Everyone else had settled their groups, and I was alone. Maybe pray for 2 friends. You know, just in case something happens to one.

    She-bop, I hope your girl's okay. Mine has come home pretty happy, though a bit shell-shocked. She was embarrassed that she was late to one class and locked her combination in her locker so she couldn't open it. But doing okay. It was the tears the night before school started that had me worried. But so far, we're doing pretty good. No one has ditched her at lunch. She rode the wrong bus home but luckily was with a neighborhood kid and both were dropped off only a few extra blocks from home. We'll make it!

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  17. My daughter's had locker partner drama since last spring. I wish the schools would have smaller lockers and let the kids have their own.

    Also, the bus. I always walked to school, but my daughter is busing for the first time this year. She has to get up so early and the bus is overcrowded. Poor kid.

    As a Jr. High student, I remember getting the worst menstrual cramps and not daring to tell anyone how miserable I was.

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  18. We just went to "back to school" night at the middle school. Ack. Even the smell takes me back. But the very impressive health teacher remembered my daughter's name. Hip, Hip, Hooray for good teachers.

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  19. Being 17, I can remember my first days of middle school quite well. Please do not fear the worst. While yes I had old friends, my lunch period I sat with people I didn't know at all. These people later became my best friends of my middle school life. I wasn't at all concerned about being popular, I had friends and we had fun and that's all that mattered to me. I loved 8th grade and was heartbroken to leave it. Not everyone has a middle school nightmare.

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  20. I'm still trying to figure out how I managed to bring children into the world, knowing that they would someday have to go to 7th grade. Now that my oldest is nearly there, it seems incredibly irresponsible.

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  21. Junior high was the smelly armpit of my life. I was completely awkward. Awful, awful.

    What helped me… patient parents. And, now that I think of it, younger brothers and sisters who looked up to me and thought I was cool, even when no one at school did. I could never have articulated it then, but it was nice to have some acceptance, even if it did come from a four-year-old.

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  22. My children are only 8 and 5 but I read Queen Bees a few months ago because a friend told me about it. I think it is a fantastic book. And it does 100% take the reader back to that age/mindset/world view. I agree with much of the author's advice; I don't agree with her perspective that "girls probably are probably going to have sex so figure out how you want to deal with that". Her ways of starting conversations, the way she uses language to open communication seems like it will be helpful.
    There are some expanded elementary schools here (K-8) and I'm thinking that is a good idea. I wish elementary here went to at least 6th grade instead of 5th.

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  23. Brittany, thanks for throwing in your opinion–it's good to hear from someone who remembers 8th grade a whole lot better than I do!

    elizabeth-w Tell me more about the K-8 schools. Do they separate off the 8th graders some? a lot? I've got a Kindergarten-er as well, and those big kids are a lot bigger than my 5 year old!

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  24. Kylie, I think they are separated somewhat. I totally hear you. I wouldn't want my 5 year old standing at a bus stop with a 14 year old (which is why I don't let my kids ride the bus already). The classes for the older kids seem more like grade school–they don't move through as many periods, smaller classes, smaller numbers of that age. It's fairly new here. They're based on a lottery, so every year I apply. So far, no luck, but every year you apply counts toward earning an additional "name in the hat" the next year so next year I'll have applied 5 times so that many times I'll be in the pot. People must like it because the waiting lists are so long. Every parent I talk to who has children there really prefers it.

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  25. When I was an interpretor at a jr. high (about 10 yrs ago) we had a couple of kids who kept making out (read OH WOW!!) and it kept escalating. One day as I walked through the office I heard both of them screaming, pleading, crying. Wassup? "Oh we caught Romeo and Juliet here doing the horizontal mambo out between the portables and Dr. Principal is making each of them call the others parent and explain why the parent needs to come down here."

    yeah, that was fun. : [

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