My oldest daughter begins middle school this year. That’s right. She officially moves into that dreaded territory that I refer to as the “Jan Brady Years.” For those that don’t get the reference, Jan Brady was the middle child in the 70s TV show The Brady Bunch. She wasn’t the pretty and popular one – that was the oldest daughter, Marcia. She wasn’t the cute little one – that was the youngest daughter, Cindy. Jan was the awkward middle child. The one that no one wanted to be.
So, middle school is the “Jan Brady Years.” Very few people look back on their life and say, “Man, middle school was the best time of my life!” I certainly don’t. Which is one of the reasons that I wanted to teach middle schoolers: to help students do the best they can to survive and perhaps (at times) even enjoy these three years of their life.
And when I harkened back recently to those often dark days to come up with some tips for C, I thought about the things that I wish I had known back then. Below is what I came up with. And yes, I am aware that middle school in my day, the 1600s, was vastly different than middle school now – but middle schoolers, in most ways, are still the same. So here are the things I wish I’d known in middle school:
1. No one is actually cool. Yes, some middle schoolers are cool compared to their middle school brethren, but that’s like being the best fish in a pond full of dogs.
2. Keep your friends close. What’s worse than being in middle school? Going through it alone. Find one or two people that you know you can play with, talk to, hang out with, and trust – and don’t let them go. Forgive them when they do something dumb. And if those real friends aren’t considered cool? See number 1.
3. Being clean and not smelling bad is a good thing. Bathe. With soap. Wash your hair. Wear deodorant. (Of note, cologne is not deodorant. Spraying forest scent over odor just creates a scent that’s akin to a forest where everything in the world dies, decomposes, and evacuates all of their waste.)
4. Know that you’re not alone. Every single one of your peers is struggling to get through these years, no matter what you see on the outside. Think of clowns here.
5. If you are lucky enough to have a supportive and loving family (like I was), embrace them. Talk to them. They are your shelter through rough times and your biggest fans in the good times. The instinct here is to shun your family and run to your friends. Fight that urge. Most friends come and go, while family (however you define it) is always there.
6. Be the friend you wish everyone would be. The whole “Do unto others” thing? Pretty spot on.
7. Avoid having braces in middle school if possible. Trust me on this one. It just adds another name for you to be called.
8. Learn to laugh at yourself and don’t be easily offended. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to practice both of these.
9. Stand up for yourself. And others. The only reason that bullies do what they do is because people let them. If everyone stopped standing silently by, there would be no bullies.
10. Don’t isolate yourself. Join groups, don’t hide in the library, talk to new people, make yourself uncomfortable, be a part of stuff. In the end, you’ll be happier that you did.
11. Know that middle school won’t be awful. Sure, there will be bad moments, even really bad ones. But there will also be good moments, even great ones. Yes, I wasn’t a fan of middle school overall, but some of the best times of my youth happened during those years.
12. No matter what, be you. Don’t let the world silence you or take away your joy, hope, passion, empathy, or fun. You define who you are and own it.
When you’re an adult, your middle school years will be but a distant memory. You will recall some things about this time, good and bad, but those memories will not feel as important or as permanent as they will while you’re going through it. And you will get through it. And, who knows, you may actually enjoy it.
If you don't enjoy it, keep this in mind: Even Jan Brady eventually made it out of the “Jan Brady Years.”
Here it is. Steven's blog, where his thoughts about things are revealed. Good luck.