Updated: Jul 21, 2022
How To Survive Middle School: A Parents Guide
Haley Zapal | Parenting Tips
Middle school can be the hardest part of growing up. Bodies change, hormones rage, and boundaries begin to be tested as kids transform into teenagers. It’s also a crucial time for development in a child’s life, and there are many opportunities for important discussions that will help shape them into well-rounded and socially-conscious adults.
To help you and your middle schooler get through these challenging years, we created this handy parent’s guide on how to survive middle school that will give you a little bit of perspective, help you understand them better, and provide you with strategies for helping them thrive.
Tips On How to Survive Middle School (As a Parent)
1. Middle Schoolers Are Inconsistent
Because their prefrontal cortex isn’t fully developed yet, your tween or teen will rely on their amygdala to make decisions. This “fight or flight” part of the brain can lead your middle schooler to make impulsive choices to reward the pleasure-seeking areas of the brain. Talking with your child about what changes their body is going through can help them understand why they are getting acne, acting reckless, and experiencing emotional outbursts. Having these discussions earlier, rather than later, will make it easier for you both to step back during a disagreement and understand why you may not be seeing eye to eye.
“Middle schoolers are a jumble of contradictions and inconsistencies. They can be sullen at home but delightful with teachers. They can be risk-takers on the athletic field but cautious in class. The same kid who asks you to read to them on Monday might ask you to get out of their life (and their room) on Tuesday.”
— Phyllis L. Fagell, LCP
2. They Want to Feel Seen and Heard
Middle schoolers are really just starting to understand their place in the world. And while they don’t know who they are just yet, it’s not your job to tell them — but rather to support them — as they figure it out along the way.
As adults, it can be easy for us not to take our kids seriously or assume that our way is the only way. But this can be extremely frustrating for kids. The greatest way to show your child that you respect their opinions, dreams, and fears is by simply listening. Fight the urge to insert your own advice. Being patient now will make them more likely to come to you in the future when they want to talk through more serious topics.
“Help your child find their passion as soon as possible. Then give them a goal that lines up with that passion. Put a date on the calendar for that goal. When you are working towards something together then you are less likely to fight with each other.”
— Matt McKee, Dad of 2 3. Be Realistic About What They’ll Encounter
Technology is a powerful tool, but it doesn’t come without its own set of dangers. These days, middle school is a popular time for children to receive their first smartphone or laptop, which is why it’s an important time to talk about issues like cyberbullying, sexting, and online predators. Although these topics can be difficult to discuss, they’ll help your child identify when problems arise and come to you for help.
“Talking with your kids before issues arise not only creates awareness but also builds trust. Having your kids be comfortable coming to you is the start of their successful middle school journey.”
— Jeff Reistad, Dad of 3
It’s also important to help your child understand that what they send, share, and post online can ruin their reputation in a matter of moments. Distasteful online activities are permanent, and even if they delete them from their personal pages, anyone who sees the posts can preserve them with screenshots.
4. FOMO is Real
While FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) typically refers to not being able to participate in a certain activity, it can take many different shapes and forms — especially in middle school. Whether it’s not having the trendiest wardrobe or being the only one who still doesn’t have a cell phone, middle schoolers can feel alienated and left out when they are unable to conform to what their peers are doing.
These feelings are amplified when you consider how connected the world is — kids especially are posting everything they do online. Seeing that friends from school are all hanging out when they didn’t get an invite, or not getting as many “likes” as their friends, can be a hard pill to swallow as a middle schooler. However, experiencing FOMO is a great opportunity to explain to your child that it’s just a fact of life that they won’t be able to participate in everything their friends are doing and that their reputation is not dependent on the number of followers they have on Instagram.
“Generally speaking, parents may often suspect the measurable mass of any middle school FOMO is inversely proportional to the lack of insignificance triggering it. That is, the more unremarkable the minutia of a moment, the more it seemingly matters to middle school students. That trip they missed to the lake with Aunt Becky? “Sure, that would have been fun (I guess).” But not going to the mall with Sam? On a Saturday? “IT WAS THE EVENT OF THE SEASON! MY LIFE IS RUINED.”
— Whit Honea, Dad of 2
5. They Are Going to Test Boundaries
As your middle schooler starts to gain a sense of independence, they will begin to feel out just how much freedom they actually have. In today’s digital world, that usually means pushing the envelope using their smartphones and social media. And when they decide to start testing their online boundaries, tap into your support system(s) for help.
Helping Keep Middle School Kids Safe
Middle school has always been hard, but today’s generation has to deal with technology we couldn’t even dream of when we were kids. If you need advice or support on how to survive middle school, join a community of parents going through similar situations in Parenting in a Tech World.
Content modified from Bark
How to Empower Girls with Back-to-School Confidence
By Marcie Colledge and Kelly McCollum
Raising girls in an education-friendly home can help create lifelong problem solvers. When girls are encouraged to ask questions, experiment with their ideas, and explain their thought process, they develop skills that will help them excel in life in general, but especially in subjects such as science and math—ones that rely heavily on strong problem-solving skills.
Around the ages of 8-14, girls’ confidence levels are proven to drop by around 30%, not only physically but also educationally. Around this same time, many girls lose interest and motivation in STEM subjects, and the pandemic has only propelled their disinterest and self-esteem issues.
The good news is that even if you’re not a whiz at math or science (yet!) you can still help boost your daughter’s confidence and empower her to return to school with new knowledge and excitement about exploring the world around her.
1. Expose Her to Role Models Exposing your daughter to the powerful women of the world through books, movies, television shows, etc. can help her gain confidence in being a girl and inspire her own story. By being able to picture herself accomplishing the same amazing things, she’ll feel powerful and inspired to put herself out there and try new things. These are a few amazing female role models in some of our favorite books and movies:
Marie Curie by Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara
Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed
The Girl with a Mind for Math: The Story of Raye Montague by Julia Finley Mosca
Queen of Physics: how Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the Atom by Teresa Robeson.
The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s life with the Chimps by Jeanette Winter.
Hidden Figures (PG)
Black Panther (PG-13)
Code Girl (documentary)
The Imitation Game (PG-13)
2. Wonder & Solve Problems Together Be curious together. It doesn’t matter how much you do or don’t know about science or math—learn together. If there’s a question or problem she’s stuck on, look it up together; or encourage her to research a topic she’s wondering about then have her come tell you about it. She’ll absorb your sense of wonder and desire to learn and likely come to internalize it as her own. She’ll also be empowered to search for answers to her questions instead of having them spoon-fed to her. This will help her not only at home but also in the classroom. With the confidence to ask questions and let her teacher know when she needs help, she’ll be able to better understand subjects that she didn’t feel too confident about before.
3. Do Educational Activities Together The best way for children to learn is by doing hands-on activities. Intentional adult-children interactions can help extend this learning, so finding way to enjoy education can make a huge difference in her confidence levels. For science especially, there are amazing resources to help facilitate these interactions and make learning a positive experience.
Visit your local science museum! You can use this directory to search for science museums in your area.
There are so many free online resources which describe experiments you can do at home with supplies you probably have in your cupboard. This is a great family activity for a rainy day or during summer when kids are looking for something fun to do with friends. Set them up in the backyard and let them experiment!
Purchase science, math, engineering kits then set aside family time, mother-daughter time, or father-daughter time to work on them together! Award-winning Yellow Scope science kits are perfect for that 8–12-year-old girl in your life; check out A Mighty Girl’s website to search for age-specific math activities; or delve into circuitry and electronics with Little Bits’ electronic building blocks.
4. Embody a Growth Mindset According to Stanford researcher Carol Dweck, how students perceive their abilities has a big impact on their motivation and achievement. Students with a “fixed” mindset believe intelligence and abilities are “fixed” or unchangeable, whereas those with a “growth” mindset believe these traits can be developed. Students with a fixed mindset are more likely to shy away from challenges and asking questions for fear of not looking smart. By contrast, those with a growth mindset tend to ask more questions and seek out challenges – seeing them as opportunities for growth and development. In fact, in study after study, students who learned to embody a growth mindset performed better when challenging material was presented; they also earned higher grades and took more challenging classes!
Here are some phrases that adults can use to can help encourage a growth mindset:
“When you learn how to do a new kind of math problem, it grows your math brain.”
“That feeling of science being hard is your science brain growing.”
If possible, try to avoid suggestions that students (or you!) aren’t good at specific subjects like:
“I can’t do math.”
“That’s okay, maybe science isn’t one of your strengths.”
Note: If you slip (as we all sometimes do!) and accidentally find yourself using one of these phrases, add “yet” to the end.)
When she makes a mistake, help her think of it as a great learning opportunity.
5. Give Her Time to Explore & Think on Her Own Children learn science best when they experiment, make mistakes, make observations, re-try the experiments, and then think about what’s happening. This process can take time. Give her the time and space to explore and discover on her own before jumping in with the “correct” answers. Providing support while she’s struggling with a question, problem, or idea can let her know you’re there for encouragement, but still allows her to problem-solve and get the answer herself.
Content modified from Tinybeans
After Reading My Notes from Middle School, This Is What I Want My Daughter to Know
By Betsy Bozdech
1. Be Kind: You don’t have to be friends with everyone, but if you treat everyone with kindness, you’ll have better memories and fewer regrets. I said some nasty things about other people in some of the notes I found buried in my boxes, and it made me sad to think that I wasted time (and ink) on petty resentments.
2. Be Inclusive: Make sure everyone feels welcome—to your conversations, your lunch table, your activities. I felt left out so often as a teenager. A lot of that was my insecurity, but some of it was my friends just not thinking about how their actions and decisions affected others. Totally on point for teens, but still hard. And in today’s world of social media and FOMO, it’s worse than ever.
3. Give Yourself a Break: Nobody expects you to be perfect except you, and you’re going to make mistakes; try to accept them with grace and learn from them. There were far too many times when my friends and I ran ourselves down for being stupid, clueless, or unworthy when we should have been looking for opportunities to support and praise each other.
4. Stay in Touch: Believe it or not, someday you’ll want to remember these years with the people you lived through them with. My trip down memory lane has included people I barely remember (but was close enough to at the time to exchange long rants about French class?), but it has also made me think nostalgically about once-close friends I let slip away. And it turns out you can’t find everyone online decades later (even on LinkedIn).
5. Remember: None of This Is Important (But, Also, It’s All Important): I know how huge everything feels right now—and I will do my best to remember that if you also believe me when I tell you that it’s temporary. The she-said-WHAT?! outrage. The you-went-to-the-movies-without-me pain. The they-asked-someone-else-to-the-dance heartbreak. The I-lost-the-student-council-election-because-my-opponent-got-the-vice-principal-to-fudge-the-sign-up-deadline disappointment. (Wait, that last one didn’t happen to everyone?) There are so many things I wish I could tell my teenage self to skip the tears about and maybe read a good book instead. But I remember how big it all felt then—and I will be ready with tissues when my daughter inevitably goes through it, too. And then we might talk a little smack about some of the other kids. Because when all is said and done, it is middle school. But it’s not forever.
Snippet from Much Rack
Printable - Survival Guide for Parents