Middle school wasn't particularly kind to me. I was a gawky 5'10", a rail at 118 lbs., and saddled not only with dental braces but a back brace to correct my scoliosis. While somewhat popular in my elementary school's sixth grade, I was lost in the shuffle in middle school, outshone by scads of more mature, more developed and more fashionably correct girls than I.
I was quickly relegated to the "nerd" population, dropped by lifelong friends for the more glamorous girls. I wasn't confident or determined enough to attempt joining those groups -- in hindsight, a wise decision -- so I reluctantly accepted my "nerd" status. It wasn't until years later that I came out of my shell, found my way and became the person I should have been all along -- happy, comfortable in my skin, and confident in my ideas and opinions.
Now that my daughter is heading off to middle school, I'm torn between painting a rosy picture of what middle school can be, and the reality it often is -- a quagmire of tween drama, shifting friendships, and self-confidence doubts. In the end, I've settled on the following pep talk:
Be yourself -- Perhaps the hardest piece of advice to follow, but it needs to be said. I've spent 11 years instilling values in this girl: Be kind. Do the right thing. Make good choices. Don't change for other people. I can only pray she'll hear my words in her brain when confronted with dicey, dangerous or disastrous situations.
It's OK to try to fit in -- That said, I get it. Nobody wants to stand out in middle school. It's all about blending, and not appearing like an oddball. I'm willing to go along, to a degree, but no, you won't be able to dye your hair, wear Goth clothes or act disrespectfully just to impress your friends.
Make new friends, but keep the old -- Like the old Girl Scout song, don't drop your old buddies just because you've found newer, possibly more "interesting" friends. You don't want that happening to you, so don't do it to anybody else.
Don't be a heart breaker -- My daughter recently learned a boy wants her to be his "girlfriend," which is nothing more than a name-only title. She doesn't like him, but was considering saying yes, just to have a "boyfriend." That's a bad pattern just waiting to start. I suggested telling him she liked him as a friend. I'd rather her break his heart up front, than lie to him and break it later -- a lesson I hope she carries into middle school and beyond.
Don't let the mean girls get you down -- There will always be girls who are more mature, more popular, more whatever. And not all of them will be nice about it. Stay true to who you are (see Number 1), don't let the haters make you doubt yourself, and rise above it all. At least, do your best.
For all I know, my daughter's middle school experience will be far different than mine. After all, we're different people. All I can do is hope, and be there when things get tough. After all, we'll still also have high school to deal with.
Other articles by Karen Kinsey:The 'nosy syndrome': How to get tweens to butt out