My husband, the organized one in our marriage, recently helped me get all of my childhood and adolescent pictures archived in different scrapbooks. It took several hours and was very tedious. As we worked to sort through the images, memories were reawakened that had been resting for years. Moments reminding me of both failure and success, friendship and exclusion, gratitude and jealousy were scattered across my floor. I began to reflect on my life during middle school.
For many, our youth is a turbulent time filled with increased responsibilities and riddled with emotion. It’s also a wonderful time as we start to create the person we have always wanted to become. I think we discover who we are through these times; which is why I don’t like the advice, “just be yourself.” At 12, I didn’t really know how to define who “myself” was. I was just starting to learn.
The arrival of 7th grade was very stressful for me. I was insecure and cared way too much about how people thought of me. Through some hard times, and with the help of some wonderful friends and family, I learned 5 valuable lessons that forever changed me. I want to share this advice for starting middle school today in hopes that they might prevent you from making some mistakes, and perhaps, help you to be a force for good.
- The easiest way to make friends is to ask people about themselves.
My mom always told me, “People love to talk about themselves.” Though they might deny it, I have almost always found this to be true, especially during the middle school years. I remember when I first took advantage of this. Before class started, I began asking the people around me about their weekend, their morning, or simply what they thought about the homework assignment. It doesn’t take more than a few casual questions before conversations start to blossom. Suddenly, you’re not surrounded by strangers, but by friends.
I’ve found that, most of the time, when there is an awkward silence, people are more than happy to talk if someone will just break the ice with a question. Asking people about themselves and really listening makes people feel appreciated. They will enjoy being around you. The key is to focus on them and not try to think of how you can bring yourself back up as the main topic. As this happens, they will naturally ask about you too. In all my years of middle school, high school, and college, I only had two girls that were rude enough to ignore me when I asked them a question (both times were in middle school, the older people get, usually the nicer they are). I realized that if someone was willing to be so rude to a stranger, they probably weren’t going to make a good friend, so I didn’t worry about it. It was their loss!
- No one notices you as much as you do.
I know this sounds hurtful, but it’s actually not. When I was younger, I remember getting embarrassed so easily and thinking that everyone was going to remember it FOREVER. Chances are, no one will, in fact, you’ll probably forget about it too. So you had a big zit on your nose one day, by next week, no one is going to be thinking about it. Try this exercise for me: can you remember what you wore yesterday? What about the day before that? What about the entire week last week? Most likely, it’ll take a little while for you to remember just one outfit, let alone all of them. And those are the things that YOU yourself were wearing! Imagine trying to remember what your best friend wore!
The things that happen to you might happen in front of other people, but they mean the most to you. It’s the same for everyone. I recall walking into the cafeteria on the first day of school and feeling like the only person who didn’t know where to sit and thinking that everyone was staring. Then, I took a look around and noticed that several other people were in the same boat, and that no one was really looking at me. Realizing this helped me to get over the embarrassing moments that happened to me. And the embarrassing moments people actually remembered about me? Those make for some pretty awesome stories whenever I get asked, “What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you?”
- You can never go wrong by being polite.
I feel this one is pretty self-explanatory. I share it only because I think all of those teen movies out there usually have one thing in common: a popular girl who is beautiful, but very mean. She’s portrayed as powerful and influential and is usually voted to win something like Prom Queen or School President. In real life, in all my 26 years, I have NEVER seen this happen. Turns out, people don’t really like girls (or boys for that matter) who are mean to others. Sure, people might find them attractive, but there’s a difference in being found attractive and actually being liked and respected by others.
I had a large senior class, over 1,000 people. When prom rolled around, do you know who was voted Prom Queen? The girl who was nice to everyone. Yes, she was beautiful, but she was even more beautiful the more you got to know her. Being nice goes a long way. It goes a million times farther than being beautiful. People probably won’t remember the clothes you wore, but they will ALWAYS remember the way you made them feel. Try to find ways you can help others throughout your school day. Bring extra pencils just for the purpose of having one for the person that forgot theirs. When you think something nice about someone else, tell them. This will not only make you feel more confident, but it will make you a force for good. And that’s the kind of person other people want to have around.
- Not doing the right thing is the wrong thing to do.
This statement actually came to me in a dream I had the other night. I know that sounds random, but just hear me out. In my dream, some family members had publically made fun of someone (they would never really do this.) When I asked why they did it, one of them responded that they didn’t say anything, they were just there when it happened. That’s when I responded, “Not doing the right thing is the wrong thing to do.” I’ve never said this before, but I pondered on it for a long time that day after I woke up. It brought back memories of being in the 6th grade and watching the boys in my class be horribly rude to a girl that was always picked on. I didn’t participate, but I never did anything to stop it. I still think about this, and still regret it to this day. When I decided not to act, I did the wrong thing. Sometimes no action at all, is the wrong action to take. I urge you that when the time comes, and it will, and you have the choice to do something right, or sit passively on the sidelines, that you choose to act. You don’t necessarily have to be bold and stand up to your peers face-to-face, but you should find the opportunity to find a teacher or adult who can resolve the issue. I still think about that girl. I still think of the pain she faced. And all I did was nothing. Don’t be me, don’t let that happen to someone else. Do the right thing. It’s not something you’ll regret.
- Know that gossip always makes it back to the subject.
Gossip is like tree sap, once you touch it, it’s nearly impossible to get off. It’s an easy trap to fall into. For some reason, talking about other people’s faults can temporarily make us feel like we don’t have any. But once the conversation is over, we are always left with three things: emptiness from the negativity, distrust for the person we were talking with (because if they speak bad about someone else, what will they say about us?), and, the inevitable moment when the person we were talking about learns what we have said.
In 7th grade, I was hurt because some girls were talking about their party they were throwing that I wasn’t invited to. I confided in one of my friends how this had hurt my feelings. I even called one of the girls a mean name. What did my friend do after I confided in her? She went and told them exactly what I said. Long story short, I ended up being bullied by these girls for several weeks until my mom called the principal and we worked everything out. Gossip is toxic. It’s hurtful, and it does not benefit you in any way. If you need to vent, go to a parent, or write in a journal, but don’t spread it to your friends. The temptation not to spread something is too strong for most people. If you’re going to spread something, make it kindness. You really can’t go wrong with that.
In the grand scheme of things, middle school is just a tiny portion of your life. Don’t take things too seriously, and focus on the positive. You’ll do just fine!