Reframing the Middle School Experience

carla1“I think it is about time that we reframe middle school as an important, transformative, and exciting time rather than something a child has to survive. Let’s stop telling them everything will be better when they are older, and start celebrating the here and now.”

-Carla Moyer, Head of Middle School

In a recent letter to Middle School parents, Mrs. Moyer shared the words above – as well as more about changing our perspective about the middle school experience. We have excerpted that letter below.

In a recent, very informal, poll of friends of all ages, I asked people to share three words that described their middle school years. Confused, unsure, bullied, awkward, clueless, angry, insecure, and lost were some of the more frequent words. And yes, these things are all felt at a deep level at some point in our adolescent years. Depending on our school situation, our home life, or even our geographic location, we felt things at different levels. I would venture to guess that we still feel some of these things as adults (although the closer I get to the mid-century mark, the less I worry about them!).
Rather than focusing on all of the troubling words, what if we turned these experiences around into things that make us grow? What if we tell our kids that these feelings are normal and arm them with strategies to confront them? What if we honor these feelings, and help them channel the energy into something productive? For example, helping our kids find adults (or even older students) who can help them problem solve in ways we cannot empowers them to use their resources and develop relationships. Teaching them how to stand up for themselves rather than feeling like a victim helps develop empathy and inner resilience. As for those awkward feelings, reassuring our children over and over again they are beautiful, strong, kind, worthy, and enough (even when they roll their eyes), can help them develop the confidence and strength to be unique and express themselves as an individual. Don’t underestimate the influence your unconditional love has on your child.
Interestingly enough, I heard many positive words as well from people who grew up in all different generations. Some people described their middle school years as carefree, exciting, happy, fun, friend-centered, busy, academic, independence-building, and a time for discovering music and romantic relationships. Honestly, our teachers see much more of this type of experience than the one described above. Our students enjoy being with friends at various points throughout the day, they seem to love an academic challenge in which they can take great pride in their accomplishments, they bounce back easily from a landslide loss in an athletic contest, and they often take risks and try new things without fear of failing. THIS is the middle school world that gets overshadowed by the other.
Believe me, I am not here to sugarcoat things and say that you will never have an angry, sullen, or devastated young person on your hands. And to be fair, kids often present their more happy and positive sides to their teachers and save the other feelings for the people who love them unconditionally at home. But, I humbly suggest that when you look at their four years as a whole, consider all of the time they spend in the positive zone, and enjoy the unique and special person being revealed to you daily. We are so fortunate to have an environment at Cannon where kids can experience more of the joys and delights of growing up without some of the pressure and worry kids feel in other environments. For today, take the time to delight in the fact that your child acts like a two-year old one moment and a 25-year old the next. Take the time to celebrate the little moments, and spend time doing things together as a family that let you all forget about the pressures of school, friendships and social media. Enjoy the time with them in the car as a “captive audience” before they get their license (even if they aren’t talking much), and revel in the good days.
And, if you need to be reassured you are doing something right, just talk to one or two of our teachers, coaches, or administrators, and hear the love in their voices when they talk about your child. Middle school years don’t scare us, and they shouldn’t scare our children. We truly wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but right here with our amazing students.