When I think of myself in middle school, I think of permed hair, my obsession with NKOTB the first (and only) boy band in my eyes, and of my secret that I still wanted to play barbies well past the age that all of my friends were.
I think of fights over nothing in particular that felt like the entire world was falling apart, and that one mortifying, awkward day where I “forgot” to wear a bra to school when let’s face it, I didn’t really need a bra anyway.
I think of liking boys, but never wanting to admit it, and of school rivalries with the middle school across town. I think of my best friend who will always be a lifelong ally no matter the time and miles that separate us, and I remember how french fries seemed like a solid meal, and doing PE felt like the worst form of torture imaginable.
In a few months, my daughter is going to middle school, and I wonder how I got here so fast. I wonder how my memories can feel so fresh, and yet so far away at the same time. I wonder how it’s possible that my tiny girl is actually old enough to go through all these same things, and what I’d want to say to her as she goes off to middle school.
So to my daughter headed to middle school, here’s what I want you to know:
Pick good friends.
Friends feel like everything, but if you don’t choose wisely, you can easily end up where you don’t want to be. Pick friends that have high standards. That think learning is cool, and that make you feel good about yourself. Pick friends that aren’t into being petty, and controlling you, and pointing out how someone else’s clothes look. Pick friends that want to do good, and more importantly value being kind, even when someone isn’t kind back.
Be yourself because confidence will look good on you.
Middle school is a time to figure out who you want to be. You are trying to fit in, and that’s totally normal, but don’t blur who you really are with who you think you should be. Just because all your friends want to take a hip hop class, doesn’t mean you have to. When they question you, don’t be afraid to just tell them that you’re not that interested. True friends will admire your confidence in being true to yourself. And, confidence will always be a good look on you.
Take care of your body.
Wear deodorant, and try to take pride in how you look. That doesn’t mean having the trendiest clothes or the coolest shoes. It simply means that you should take the time to look presentable, put together, and ready for whatever life throws at you. No need to “impress” anyone with your clothes, but instead focus on treating your body as a gift. It is one. Feed it, hydrate it, and brush your hair.
School is important.
You will have a ton more social activities, but school work is actually cool. OK, I know it doesn’t actually feel “cool” but now is the time to learn to study, work hard, and set up good habits. Trust me, it will be easier in high school and college if you can learn to get organized and sacrifice some of the social life for an A on a test.
You’re going to be adjusting to a lot of new experiences in middle school, and it’s important to have fun. Try not to worry about being perfect, and relax into everything that gets thrown your way. Yes, I know I said school is important, but so is having fun. You only get to be this age once. Don’t worry if you still want to be little and play make believe from time to time – you don’t need to grow up too fast.
Talk to me.
I know it doesn’t seem like I know much, but if you’ll just talk to me, I promise I’ll try to be understanding. I’ve been there. I was awkward. Friends hurt my feelings. I hurt my friends’ feelings. I made mistakes, and I do know how annoying middle school boys can be. I also know you’ll hear and see a lot of things that might make you scared, or worried, or just plain confused. Talk to me about them, and I promise, you’ll feel better. Friends are a great resource, but your parents love you like no one else does, and we have a pretty decent perspective since we still remember what middle school was like.
Don’t get wrapped up in girl drama.
Middle school girls are full of hormones and drama. It’s a given. You’ll feel like you’ve been majorly wronged by a friend, and guess what, you’ll probably really hurt a friend’s feelings too. Don’t talk behind your friend’s backs. Talk TO your friends. Be honest. Apologize and don’t gossip. If you can learn to just communicate with the people you love, you’ll see that it usually works itself out. An “I’m sorry” can sometimes heal all wounds, even when you didn’t do anything wrong.
The world does not exist inside your phone.
You don’t even have one yet, but you will soon enough. There is life beyond what goes on on that phone. There are relationships to work on, books to read, and life to live. Don’t get sucked into what is happening on social media, instead go outside and live life, do something good for someone, or create a memory that doesn’t involve a screen. That’s where the good stuff is – especially the books.
Move at your own pace – it’s not a race.
You’ll see friends doing things you don’t feel ready for like wearing make-up, or going out with boys. Your friends might push you into feeling like you need to catch up. You don’t. There is all the time in the world to go at your own pace and figure out what you want to do when you want to do it. It’s OK if you still would rather play a board game than go to a boy/girl party. Remember, growing up is not a race.
Be the example.
It’s hard being the example, and sometimes it sucks. But, people will look up to you for standing out, making good choices, and being kind even when you feel awkward or uncool. Kids can be mean. But, you’re not. So, stand up to the bullies, speak out against things you know are wrong, and don’t be afraid to be different. Even when it sucks. Sure, you might miss out on things, but I promise it’s not the end of the world, even though it feels like it. Be the example when you can, because you are brave, and strong.
Remember that we love you.
I remember feeling so alone some days in middle school. Especially when my best friend was mad at me, or when I felt like no one understood whatever it was that I was going through. I may not always know exactly how you feel, but you are never alone. You have a family that loves you, and we’ll always try to be a soft landing place for you when you fall. No mistake you make will ever make us feel differently about you. YOU WILL ALWAYS BE LOVED. No matter what.
So, as you start middle school, remember that you’ve got this. You’re ready. And, you’ve got a couple of cheerleaders at home that think you’re the greatest. Even though I don’t want you to become a big middle school kid, I know it’s where you need to go and what you need to do to become who you need to become. And, that’s a beautiful thing.
Meredith Ethington is the founder and creator of Perfection Pending, and has been blogging for over 10 years. She is a mom to three, trying to help her kids understand sarcasm and her need for personal space. Meredith’s debut parenting book, Mom Life: Perfection Pending, provides an uplifting yet realistic look at all that is expected of moms in the 21st century and is now available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and at Absolute Love Publishing. She proudly writes for many of her favorite parenting sites, including Scary Mommy, Babble, Momtastic, and on her own blog. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter where she loves to laugh at herself and admit that while parenting is the best thing ever, it’s also the hardest job on earth.