Starting middle school is a big deal. It can be exciting, but the words “middle school” send many females down memory lane to a time that was awkward or painful. Going from elementary school to middle school can range from okayish to rocky transition to s-show. As the academic and social expectations grow, so too is the body. Here are some frank talks you should have with your daughter starting middle school about what lies ahead. I’ll start with the easy stuff.
Screens and school for those starting middle school
- Boundaries for screen time: If your girl has a smartphone, limit the apps. Make it very clear that you respect her privacy but you will ask for access to it randomly and you expect her to give it to you without a question. I also suggest implementing the following rule: she’ll need to hand it over while doing homework or studying. Tell her you’d like to see how she does in school with a bigger workload without constantly being distracted. Reiterate that is an experiment with a clear end (winter break) and see how it goes.
- You will also have to show her how to turn off the messaging on her computer. (Youtube is a good resource for those of us not as tech savvy as we need to be.) I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been working with students and a messaging app dings. When I ask them to close it, they don’t know how!
- School-related websites: Though she may be a savvy socialite, she may have no clue how to use the internet to find useful info. To start, bookmark sites like Quizlet, No Fear Shakespeare, Shmoop, Khan Academy on whatever device she plans on using for school.
- Online presence: Maybe this is obvious, but an honest talking to about the complexity of social media is appropriate and something every parent should have. A recent survey reported that in addition to consuming media on their phones like music and video, girls tended to use social media more than boys, who spend more time on games. Explain to your girl that you know and get that these are the times we live in and everyone uses it, but this is a new venue for all that mean girl/bullying dramas to play out. To complicate things further, it is also a new way to flirt. Decide for yourself what your policy is for social media sites and communicate them. Let her know that you are aware of her online presence.
And the tricker stuff for those starting middle school:
- Mean girls: If she hasn’t yet encountered tricky social dynamics, broach the subject and be open and vulnerable. You can own that it’s very mommish of you to try to protect her, but you want to make sure that she knows she can come to you if she has a mean-girl experience. I suggest vulnerability and transparency about your own past. Openly share your less-than awesome experiences, either as a mean girls or the prey of them. And of course there’s always the movie!
- Sex: I know, this is getting worse as you scroll down! But being proactive is better than being reactive after something terrible has happened. Acknowledge that talking about these topics with you may make her feel awkward. Teach her about her body or give her a way to learn. If it’s too awkward, appoint another trusted adult to have this conversation. Here’s why: young people have access to pornography 24/7 and it’s changing their expectations of sex. Though they are having less intercourse, the amount of hooking up has increased. If you want a great read on this, check out Girls and Sex by Peggy Orenstein. You should do this in advance of your talk, preferably with wine. More on this to come.
- Drugs: Though drug use for middle schoolers is not a huge problem, it’s never too early to let them know you know. Alcohol is still the number one drug that leads to assault and the drug landscape is different than when we were younger. Opioid addiction and pill parties are real. There are too many stories of young girls find who find themselves in scary situations at parties. The best thing you can do for your girl is to inform her beforehand before she is the one making the decisions on the spot.You can wait until 8th grade, but at some point, open the conversation.
Middle school girls have a lot to get used to. Talk to them honestly over the next few weeks about the changes that come at this time of life. Prepare her by giving her the tools to make good decisions, and promise her that you are there for her as she goes through it.
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