The middle years
By Nathan Rice
The sixth-grade boys in my group had bunked down for the evening. I was busy ensuring the room was properly set for the evening and handling all the requests for one more drink of water.
They were talking about the events of the day when one of them mentioned a blond girl in the girls’ group on the campground. One of them said “She’s kind of cute,” while another stated that he thought the redhead was the prettiest.
I was listening closely to ensure the conversation didn’t stray into an area that they were not yet mature enough to discuss. The conversation remained innocent, but it was time to turn off the lights, so I told them it was time to stop talking about the girls and go to sleep.
I was reaching for the light switch when the boy who thought the blond was the cutest girl on the campground yelled out, “Bobo! Where’s Bobo?” I scanned the room and Bobo, his stuffed gorilla, lie on the floor next to his bed. I handed him the stuffed gorilla, and he quickly clutched it to his chest. “Thank you,” he said as he rolled over. “I can’t go to sleep without Bobo.”
It was an interesting peek into the mind of an upcoming middle schooler. He went from a conversation about those of the opposite gender to looking for his favorite stuffed animal so he could go to sleep.
The middle school years are a time of rapid change, and they can be difficult for many children. Middle school children have raging hormones, changing bodies, and minds swirling to keep up with everything that is happening.
Many adults also find children’s middle school years difficult as they try to determine how to work with kids who aren’t little kids but who are also not yet in high school.
Adults first need to realize that the transition from a child to a full-fledged teenager does not happen overnight. It’s normal for middle-schoolers to act like small children one minute and 16-year-olds the next minute. Their minds and maturity level can swing between elementary school and high school at a moment’s notice.
It’s important to allow middle-school children to experience both temperaments. There’s nothing wrong with giving the additional freedom and responsibilities that come with the middle school years while still allowing them to hold on tightly to their favorite stuffed animal at night. Allow them to grow up at their own speed.
We should also be aware of the peer pressure and the desire to appear grown up. Some may still be holding on to the remnants of childhood but be too embarrassed to participate in certain “childish” activities. The desire to appear grown up may even extend to home, so watch their facial expression and body language.
They may need to sit close to mom on the couch or have dad pick them up in his arms but think that they are too old to feel this way, so they don’t initiate the action.
Don’t be afraid to take the first step in letting them still be little when you see they still need that time.
You may also see them quelling a desire to participate in favorite childhood activities. They may think they’re too old to color Easter eggs or make a gingerbread house, but they’re hiding the fact they wish they could continue. A gentle push from you may make all the difference, and you don’t even have to let them know that you’re on to their secret desire.
There are several ways you can help them participate without embarrassing them. Statements such as, “I really like having a gingerbread house as a part of our Christmas decorations. Would you help me make one?” or “I think I boiled too many eggs. Would you like to color a few with your little brother since we have so many?” can allow them to continue what they enjoy without having to feel embarrassed.
We call it middle school for a reason. Kids during this time are in the middle of childhood and adolescence. It will take a lot of patience and understanding, but the middle school years can be a wonderful time.
Nathan Rice is a Hampton Roads native and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.