Middle school leaves scars

We’ve had this post title for a really long time in the draft.  And we know exactly what we mean.  But… we really don’t want to talk about it.

Middle school leaves scars that can hurt well into middle-age, possibly longer.  They’re revisited less frequently with age, but occasionally we will be reminded to feel completely socially inadequate, even though we’re adults and we know it wasn’t us it was them and once we were allowed to control who we spent time with we were no longer friendless or bullied or ostracized.  But the scars are still there.  Scars that one of us is trying her best to keep her children from ever acquiring.

John Green says it well.



39 Responses to “Middle school leaves scars”

  1. delagar Says:

    We home-schooled the kid through the middle-school years, for other reasons. But we weren’t sorry she had to miss those years. :)

  2. Mel Says:

    Oh yes to all of this. It was hard going through it the first time. I didn’t realize how hard it would be to help someone else through it.

  3. bogart Says:

    What is this “middle school” of which you speak? I for one went to junior high school, thereby avoiding all those problems. Not. Definitely am not looking forward to revisiting this (in the parental role) in this era of modern communications. When my stepkids were in middle/high school, the big (communications technology) issue was when/whether we’d let them have pagers %) !

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Well, when I was in 3rd grade, there was no middle school and elementary was K-5. When I was in 4th grade, the middle school movement had taken over our district, and elementary was K-4 and we had two middle schools (5-6/7-8) instead of junior highs.

      DC1’s (public elementary) school has had so many assemblies on bullying.

      • Leah Says:

        They’ve had multiple assemblies on bullying just since the school year has started? Interesting.

        Sometimes, I wonder if too much focus on the subject gives people ideas . . .

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        The last one had a large component of victim-blaming in it.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Another one was identical to something they had back when I was in high school (the one with “warm fuzzies”). Ironically one of the biggest bullies from my childhood was really into the warm fuzzies and got lots of training about the not bullying stuff. But… didn’t really change her behavior.

      • Kellen Says:

        Re: victim blaming. I read this report on bullying in schools several years ago–interesting because it was put out by law enforcement. For the most part, it doesn’t victim blame, but it does have a short piece about the characteristics of “chronic victims.” http://ric-zai-inc.com/ric.php?page=detail&id=COPS-P029

        I’m kind of uncomfortable with it, because they imply in one part that certain types of chronic victims (who approach their antagonizers later to try and interact with them further), could be taught to change their own behavior.

        It’s a tough issue. The kids I remember who were bullied in my schools generally were being raised by grandparents, and much lower socio economic status (I only have 3 examples, so not a sample to generalize by, of course.) They were so different, and other kids don’t like that. But I remember one girl in our elementary school who would reach out to these kids and be their friend, and I always wonder whether that was just how she was, or whether her parents taught her better. I think I was too caught up worrying about how *I* would be judged to do what she did and reach out and make friends with those girls.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        At one point a school counselor suggested that I stop raising my hand in class when I knew the answer. Fortunately at that point I knew that I was going to blow that popsicle stand someday so not hiding that I was smart was far more important than fitting in, and I knew that if I were a boy, there wouldn’t be any problem with me always knowing the right answer (because there wasn’t for the two boys who were getting the same grades I was and spoke up in class). I was brought up to be a warrior against the patriarchy, though I didn’t know that particular term at the time. (See, another reason I should have been skipped grades– I wouldn’t have always known the answer!)

  4. Leah Says:

    Nervous about that for my kid. I did OK through middle school — found some good friends part way through 7th grade, and I had really supportive teachers. But 6th grade was my rough year. Bullied by the girls in my class and with a teacher who just never paid attention to anything. I got along with the boys, and the girls made sure there was drama with them. The drama continued until I met cool people in 7th grade. But there were some Mean Girl moments before then. Blegh.

    On the bright side, one of the guys who had teased me a lot apologized to me in high school. I thought that was pretty nice of him to recognize what he’d done so early.

    True that it’s about them and not about you. But how to transmit that lesson to my kids in a meaningful way? I feel the same is often true about many things in life, like cheating (esp in HS) and rudeness. But that doesn’t excuse the rudeness.

    • Kellen Says:

      I have read that it also helps for kids to have a social network outside of school (church, etc.), especially somewhere with a diversity of ages. Makes sense that putting them in a setting with folks who will treat them like a person can counteract a little bit of kids at school not seeing them as a person.

  5. chacha1 Says:

    I feel very fortunate that, much as I loathed my school environment, I never felt I was any kind of target. Maybe being an obvious alien (and staunchly resistant to assimilation) helped because people who might otherwise have been inclined to bully didn’t know what to make of me? I had casual friends across all the aisles.

    Also very fortunate that, weirdo that I was, I always felt complete acceptance of who I was *as a person* from my immediate family (within clearly-established parameters of appropriate performance).

  6. Katherine Says:

    My 7th grade year was truly awful. I can’t watch Mean Girls because so many of the things the mean girls do in the movie were done to me. An awful teacher didn’t help matters – most of my classes that year were not sufficiently challenging, and one teacher in particular went out of her way to make my life harder after my parents went to the head of school to talk about giving me more of an academic challenge. She made a big deal of how she thought I was a disinterested student, despite the fact that I aced all of the work in her class. Now I wish I could tell her that I hold an ivy league undergrad degree and am about to earn a Ph.D. in her discipline!

  7. Mutant Supermodel Says:

    My son just started this year. So far it seems ok. Most of his problems are just adjusting to so many changes– block schedule, multiple floors, multiple teachers, etc. So far, I think the school is a good fit for him and his personality. They had a breakfast early in the year for high school seniors and the incoming sixth graders. His senior was very impressed by the giant book he was reading (the John Carter of Mars series) and bragged about him to everyone. So that was a great boost and I was pleased it was about something like that. I feel very isolated from his middle school and can’t decide if that’s a good thing or a bad thing yet.
    I hated middle school and, honestly, contemplated suicide often. Things got MUCH better in high school because I went to one where practically no one from my middle school was going to. A lot of the things drilled into my head during middle school are things I constantly struggle with. Parenting is so difficult in that sense. You want to protect your kids and yet you know certain things are inevitable. And what point does protecting them become a liability you know?

    • chacha1 Says:

      Again I think: I hated being isolated out in the country, but on the plus side, the only behavior modeled for me was civil, educated, adult behavior. There was no internet, and I didn’t have cable till I was in graduate school, and “mean girls” were certainly not going to follow me home on the 30-minute bus ride to harass me.

      Re: protecting kids: my own experience leads me to believe that, had I experienced bullying at school, my parents would have expected me to deal with it myself (with my teachers and school officials) unless I was physically endangered. The 1970s were a more DIY age. Now, I can’t even guess what the best approach would be.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        My mom did bring holy hell down on my elementary school when a teacher bullied me (who told me I had a snotty voice when I corrected her about the pilgrims not being the first white people to have a surviving settlement in the US), but yeah, for everything else I was on my own.

        I don’t know what the accepted approach is today, but I really don’t want our kids to go through what we went through. I don’t believe children should have to put up with things that adults don’t have to put up with when it comes to harassment. Of course, in the 70s it was (even) more accepted for women to just deal with harassment than it is today.

      • Rosa Says:

        I really think it’s better today. But I think that’s partly because we’re in city schools – in the little town where I went to middle school, the kids were just recreating the exact hierarchies of their parents, and had a lot of support from the adults around them in doing that.

  8. CG Says:

    I finally found a group of girls to be good friends with in middle school, which I hadn’t had in elementary school. The sexual harassment, on the other hand (for example getting called b* on a regular basis by a kid in my math class, getting told I looked like a gorilla because I didn’t shave my legs yet), made me feel diminished in a way I had never experienced before. I didn’t tell anyone because it was just so humiliating I didn’t even want to talk about it. In fact, just writing it down here brings back all those feelings of helplessness and shame. Yuck.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      OMG, yes the sexual harassment. And some of it I didn’t even realize was sexual harassment because I didn’t have the vocabulary. (I now wonder if that girl was struggling with her own sexual identity and getting harassed for it by her parents. Still, should not have taken it out on me.)

      I didn’t tell anyone because it was drilled into me by teachers early on that you should never ever tattle. Would telling have helped? I don’t know. I finally did tell about the verbal harassment I got from the guys in 8th grade geometry so that I could walk to the high school by myself, but all that resulted in was them walking with me, which was even worse because they did it more with no parents around driving. So probably not.

      • CG Says:

        Right. No one had ever spoken to me that way before so I didn’t recognize it for a category of bad behavior that had nothing to do with me personally.

      • Omdg Says:

        Oh but tattling did help….. But only when certain kids did it. When I spoke up ( which was maybe once or twice) I was always told that what had happened was my fault. Bringing me back to my theory that bullying happens because the adults have favorites and let that show to the kids around them, which gives permission for the bullying to occur. Nobody wants to hear that though.

  9. Very Old person Says:

    The bullying in the 6th grade was instigated and lead by the teacher.
    Did it impact my entire life. Yes.
    Did my children experience the same? Yes, though they were more socially adept and did not have a vicious 6th grade teacher leading the pack. Did their teachers try to control it in their classrooms? Some did. But not the PE teachers!!!!! If you were not a star athlete you were still their target for disdain, humiliation, and ugliness.
    When the book “It Gets Better” came out did I personally hand deliver copies to my children’s past junior and senior high schools… oh yes. Because the theme of the book is that, if you can survive those times, life changes. Did all the principals say “Oh we no longer have such problems in my school”? Yes they did. Did I believe them? Nope.

  10. Becca Says:

    I’m pretty sure we should just abolish middle school. I skipped it and I’m practically perfect in every way, so it’s clearly not essential.

  11. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Reading these comments I keep having this experience where I go, yeah, I remember that and then this other thing and then my brain shuts down and refuses to go further. Go power of blocking things off.

  12. SP Says:

    Yeah, I feel like I could get a grip and be a parent up through, like, 5th grade. Then the problems get different. How do you have a baby knowing that you have to go through this stuff again?

    Middle school was not terrible for me, but certainly not great and full of the average pre-teen angst. High school wasn’t really all that different. I found the smart/nice group that was inexplicably (to me!) not in the popular group (nor picked on or unpopular), didn’t have much for boyfriends, and mostly just got through it. But I also think, partly, that is the story i tell myself. I am an optimist about the past, because it benefits me to be one. I’m sure there were excruciating moments I just choose to forget. I was quite shy. Now I don’t consider myself shy, I only consider myself an introvert, which is a different thing.

    Although, it was not terrible, it might have been less good than I care to remember.

    • Revanche Says:

      I do feel like it’s more imperative for the good people to have kids so they can raise them close to the same time and therefore create a somewhat better environment all around. :)

  13. hush Says:

    Omdg (upthread) is absolutely right about this: “bullying happens because the adults have favorites and let that show to the kids around them, which gives permission for the bullying to occur. Nobody wants to hear that though.”

    When our daughter was 4, a very troubled little boy at her former preschool bullied her (and as it turned out later, he did the same to loads of other kids there, too), including behaviors such as routine name-calling and eventually assaulting her and other children physically. When she came home with a visible mark where the boy had hit her, and the school told us had no idea this had even occurred because they were not actually supervising the kids on the playground, my husband took the issue to the male owner/lead teacher, and got a litany of b.s. excuses in response: “But actually he’s a really sweet kid!” “He’s on the soccer team I coach, and he has no problems there.” “I never saw that happen.” “Actually, appropriate rough play is acceptable for young kids.” And the owner emailed my husband an article (http://www.naeyc.org/tyc/files/tyc/file/V5N4/Carlson%2C%20F.%20Rough%20Play.pdf) that he believed supported his own conclusion that Everything Is Fine Here, The Kids Are Just Roughhousing, but it had nothing to do with the facts of the boy’s repeated non-consensual hitting and name-calling behaviors at all. This little boy was the owner’s favorite. It was at once incredibly disturbing but also psychologically fascinating to witness all the ways the owner bent over backwards to excuse and explain the boy’s behaviors. It was absolutely the preschool version of The Missing Stair (http://pervocracy.blogspot.com/2012/06/missing-stair.html). We quickly determined the owner was giving the boy permission to continue to mistreat his peers, so we flagged it for the State, and immediately moved our daughter on to a school with healthier boundaries (because we are fortunate enough to have many forms of privilege).

  14. M Says:

    It’s funny, my husband and I are looking forward to middle school/high school pressure in our kids’ lives (my stepkids) because we actually want them to feel some social pressure to excel in school and in life. They are currently being raised under two different sets of philosophical beliefs: us, who want them to achieve excellence and develop passion for things and want to change the world, and their mom, who does not have ambitious education goals, and really doesn’t have any drive for excellence – just being average and living an average life is perfectly fine. It may sound extreme or judgmental on our part, but we live in very different worlds. For example, we believe in family dinner, and discussing interesting topics over a respectably healthy meal, while they sit at TV tables eating frozen meals watching reality TV. This is the class difference we are facing. We get a lot of push back from the kids when we set expectations for them, so are hoping that their peers will help with this. And you know, even though we want them to do amazing academically and in sports and in hobbies, we really want them to just CARE about things. If they wanted to start a rock band and practiced every day or wanted to go on hippy missions to work with the poor in the third world, this would at least be something that would drive them. Ideally, they would balance that passion with academic and athletic achievement. And this also sounds pretty horrible, but they are both very overweight (because they eat like crap and do the bare minimum of exercise), and although I don’t dare to discuss this directly with them (always just emphasize “health”), I really don’t mind the idea of a little peer pressure in terms of body image. We have so many resources set up for them in terms of healthy meal offerings and athletic/movement opportunities that they continue to decline. My husband and I are both social weirdos, so we certainly don’t want them to be total conformists, and know that school can be hard in that way, but we do want them to develop passion.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      You may have to wait until college or maybe high school to see any positive peer pressure on caring about positive things. Middle school destroys elementary school passion and works very hard at creating a Harrison Bergeron type world (which is no doubt why that short story is so often read in middle school classes). I guess they might develop pretend passion towards rock stars that they don’t actually care about in order to fit in better.

      The peer pressure that they will be getting about their weight is not going to help them develop healthy eating habits or a healthy attitude towards eating, but may push them on a path of binging and purging or anorexia or emotional eating.

    • chacha1 Says:

      That is a tough one. I have to confess, I don’t think passion can be instilled externally. A kid either has it or they don’t. A lot (a whole lot) of people are simply incurious, passive, and lazy. Passion exists on a bell curve – same as intelligence or talent, though not necessarily the same curves. Such people will do the minimum they have to, to get by; and will resist and obstruct efforts to get them taking action (any action).

      Such people are the ones I have worked with over and over again who will devote 80% of their mental energy to avoiding work, when 20% of that same store of energy would have accomplished the work.

      If it were me, rather than trying to get the kids interested in things – that is, instead of offering them option after option which they are then privileged to reject, thus establishing power over you – I’d just stop offering. Limit their bad options, and keep doing what YOU do; they will notice. But just be prepared to accept that they may never be interested in anything more evolved than the Kardashians.

      That said, I do believe that kids can be inspired by example. However, in a situation like yours where you are being played off against another adult, one who makes no demands on them, the example has to come from their peers; and you simply can’t create an inspiring peer group. It’s outside your circle of control.

      As to healthy meal offerings that they decline: that IS inside your circle of control – if they decline, they don’t eat. :-) It worked for my parents, anyway! If all you have in the house is healthy options, when they get hungry enough, they will eat.

  15. Revanche Says:

    Igh. This gives me the shivers. I remember how socially inept I was all the way past high school and in some ways, it’s a wonder I have good friends from as far back as second and fifth grade.

    We did have a sort of good peer pressure in junior high and high school because that’s when we were sorted into the academically challenging or not tracks. If you tested into the gifted program early then you were automatically in Honors and you had to keep your place lest you experience the horror and shame of being back down to … I don’t know, Prep? Something like that. Same thing in high school. You wanted to excel even if it was mostly to rub it into that snotty’s kid’s face that you kicked his butt on the last five exams. TBH I think the shame was all self inflicted because in high everything had their particular strengths and sometimes that meant they dropped out of the Honors track for one or two subjects. I’d never heard a thing about it.

    I now remember seeing chronic bullying of a few girls but didn’t recognize it at the time as such, I misunderstood it to be some weird rivalry type antagonism where both parties thought the others to be jerks. I now suspect it was maybe because one of them was overweight? I don’t know. Because I fought back so fiercely every time a boy picked on me, they stood back and regarded me with a weird sort of awe. I was maybe half their weight at any given time but if someone laid a hand on me, I could and would lay him out in five seconds flat. I got away with it back then but I don’t know that LB would today, and that’s kind of a shame. If anything, those boys suddenly and very permanently learned that keeping your hands to yourself unless you had consent was a very desirable thing to do.

    Otherwise, like SP, I felt like high school was relatively tame. I had a group of academically driven friends who really DID go to each others’ for study sessions on the weekends, and did nothing more exciting than go and get ice cream floats together when we had cars. Boyfriends and dating weren’t part of the equation even though we occasionally did things like prom together. It was nice that it honestly didn’t matter if we had dating partners at 16 and 17. Though, sexual harassment did happen and to this day part of me wants to light those teenage boys on fire for the horrible things they said to my best friend. Today’s environment with social media and teens and preteens being sexually active as early as 13 … it honestly makes me want to throw up a little as if it’d purge the anxiety of what LB faces. I don’t know how we’re going to help hir through it but I am definitely going to talk to hir about the ways social media can be a weapon in the wrong hands before ze gets computer time.

  16. Rosa Says:

    the culture at my kid’s school is pretty sweet, overall, and his friends who started middle school this year are all thriving. But we’re still working on getting a dog and a therapist so he has those relationships established going into 6th grade next year. Best case scenario, he has more support than he needs, right?

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