Middle school is a brave new world, very different from the warm, fuzzy cocoon of elementary school. Just hearing the words “middle school” strikes fear in the hearts of many parents.
Middle schoolers are more independent, and there are many unknowns for parents, especially with all the technology kids have that we adults didn’t have to deal with when we were middle schoolers. To get the scoop on what really goes in middle school, we went straight to the source: local kids who have been in the middle school trenches for a few years.
Here’s what they said about what middle school is really like.
Dealing with the drama is exhausting
Devon Molina, 13, an eighth-grader at the Academy for Global Citizenship in Chicago who recently enrolled at St. Joseph’s Catholic School, says: “There’s a lot of drama—a lot of talking about people and stuff. Dealing with it takes a lot of time.” He says that parents should know that kids are dealing with it and talk with them about it.
“I feel like I’m the only person who’s helping them,” Devon says of a few classmates struggling with significant issues, including self-harm. Parents can help their kids by encouraging them not to try to handle situations solo and reviewing the adults available to help, including school counselors and teachers.
With more minor issues, however, kids often can handle it without intervention by adults. “If it’s not too big a deal, kids are good at working things out on their own,” says Cecilia Thyen, a 13-year-old who will be in eighth grade at Immaculate Conception-St. Joseph in Chicago.
Despite the drama, the kids with whom we spoke went above and beyond to be good friends. “There are some really nice people at my school,” says Sarah Parisien, 13 and an eighth-grader at Dr. Bessie Rhodes School of Global Studies in Skokie. “Every time someone gets remotely hurt in some way, emotionally or physically, there’s always someone there to help them.”
Good news: There isn’t much bullying
Bullying is not a huge issue, all of the students say.
“I very rarely see full-out bullying,” says Veronica Cody, 13, and an eighth-grader at Madison Junior High in Naperville, adding that classmates will occasionally make mean comments, both online and in the halls at school.
Annamarie Filippis, 13, an eighth-grader from Hanover Park, says she sees teasing but not bullying, and many students report that they see the same in their schools.
Beware of what gets left in lockers
“Most kids’ lockers are very unorganized and messy,” reports Veronica.
The issues ranged from papers everywhere (we’re guessing that includes a few overdue homework assignments) to the ickier issue of food left inside too long.
Some schools have regular locker clean out sessions, but check in with your child about organizational efforts and remind them to clean it out.
While you’re at it, reminding kids to bring home gym clothes to be washed is a good idea, too. Several kids say classmates go months without doing so.
Grades really matter—and are a big source of stress
“There is pressure to get good grades. Getting good grades is the most important thing in middle school,” says Max Schemmel, 12 and a seventh-grader at Brooks Middle School in Oak Park.
“Kids worry about grades, maybe more than parents realize,” says Sarah.
Students in Chicago say they feel a lot of pressure to get good grades because of the role they play in the high school admissions process. Other students say they worry about letting their parents down.
Sneaking cell phones happens
Yes, almost every middle school student has a phone. While schools all have rules on when phones can and cannot be used, kids are regularly breaking them.
Annamarie says kids in her middle school use the phone in the bathroom and during class breaks.
“We are not allowed [to use phones in school], but a lot of people use their phones during school to text each other or play games, do it under the desk,” says Max.
It seems sneaking texts is the new version of passing notes.
Homework help is appreciated
While middle schoolers are making a big bid for independence, they aren’t ready to fly solo just yet and actually do appreciate help, especially when it comes to homework.
“I stress the most when there are big projects and assignments. My parents help me and I’m glad that they do,” says Max.
They agreed, though, that parent help shouldn’t be every night but rather when kids are really stuck.
“Parents could show kids how to do something if they’re really struggling to make sure they understand the concept and then kids can learn more,” Thomas says.
There’s not much interest in dating
“Barely anyone in my class is dating. We’re not interested in each other like that,” Sarah says.
While a few kids in each class are dating, the students all reported that most kids are not too interested in coupling.
“I don’t really see the point of dating at this age,” says Thomas Furman, 13 and an eighth-grader at St. Benedict Preparatory School in Chicago.
Katie Johns contributed to this article