Middle School is Prime Time for Failure

Because failure is survivable and a brave value, we then shout “hallelujah” when our child enters middle school.

No. Because we remember our own middle school/junior high years as being the worst ever. This would not be revisionist history. Those awkward things that you can’t forget did happen to you.

So much change happens between ages 11 to 14. Puberty is just the beginning. Puberty makes your own physical body feel like an alien. Great, you get to feel like an alien at the same point you go to a bigger school. With bigger kids in the hallways. With a locker you have to figure out a combination for. Then another combination to figure out for your PE locker. You need that PE locker because you have to undress in front of others. Your alien body gets to be seen by strangers and friends and early-developed humans who look like magazine photos.

This doesn’t even begin to cover the added stressors of heightened academic expectations and the increased workload. Heightened fears as childhood naivety is lost and real world fears consume the growing brain.

That growing brain is making new neural connections so fast, experiencing so many new thoughts and emotions so fast, that the brain can’t keep up with the emotions. Which means you as a parent also can’t keep up interpreting how to help your child. This swirl of emotions is just too much for anyone to bear. Hence your child sleeps more. Hence your child yells about random problems more—and rarely makes sense. Hence you feel like a failure too. Your child already does feel like a failure but doesn’t have the words to express that correctly.

Then there is navigating the social culture while in that alien-feeling body. Where do I belong? Am I someone who is able to have friends? Will anyone ever love me? Will anyone unconditionally love me? This is something that is always difficult to navigate no matter what the age, right? But at least you have some experience—which includes your own failures—to have learned something and to keep on trying.

This is why no one ever wants to go back to middle school.

This is also why I chose to substitute teach in a middle school for 27 years. This is my favorite age which may explain why I’m still a youth pastor for my fifth decade. This is why I write for you.

You are so important now. You are safe to your child even as your child treats you like you are an alien. This identity separation from you is a part of normal adolescent development too. Read this encouraging article.

Here are some tips from me to you to help you bravely parent your middle schooler as you feel like a failure with everything you try.

  • Your child doesn’t need to be rescued. Your child needs to learn that failure is survivable. That middle school is survivable–and temporary!
  • Repeat often how God is close to the broken-hearted. How God never abandons. How many middle school memories do you still have when you felt that even God had abandoned you?
  • Share that memory with your beloved. Share that Bible verse that became personal to you during your early adolescence. Share the Bible verse that you wish you had during your early adolescence. Share what you have learned about God not abandoning you over the years of your life. Your story, because you are a safe person, will help give your child words that this horrible time is actually temporary.
  • Ask the five adults in your child’s life to also share their stories, Bible verses, and what they’ve learned about God. There is no reason for you to be the only voice in your child’s head.
  • Repeat often how temporary middle school is. This will not sink in to your child’s brain because middle school is so large and ever present. But repeat it anyway. One day it will sink in.
  • Take the opportunity to pass on problem solving and coping skills. Especially in the midst of the failure. This will be a disruption in your busy life but you get the privilege of teaching your beloved the right coping skills during this extra vulnerable time.
  • Consequences are not exempt because middle school is extra tragic. Consequences suck. For you too. It is beneficial for your child to learn the right lessons when the natural consequences are relatively small. Remember that failure is all survivable during these protected years when they are still minors and still under your roof. If this stuff isn’t learned with the little things—and middle school trauma is still little things as scary as those traumas are—decisions could be made when your child is older that are Lifetime movie scary.
  • Pray. Pray a lot. Every human emotion is the stuff of prayer. You are feeling a lot of emotions right now. Remember that the brave pray.
  • Acknowledge his/her feelings of frustration and disappointment. Give words. Acknowledge your feelings too. Your disappointment is survivable when you love unconditionally. This may be a starting point. How are you showing that you love unconditionally? (What a gift this is to your beloved.)
  • Give your child the word overcomer. Overcoming is to persevere (this may be a new word to them). Overcoming is to feel the hurt and grow. God has hard-wired us for pain. All of us. Your child is not exempt from this. What a powerful thing to learn that God believes in our strength so much we’ve been hard-wired this way.

Overcoming is to process through to the learning side of it. Overcoming is something to be proud about. To even carry with some vanity*. Your child certainly can use this boost of confidence. To have a word that defines his/her confidence.

*Vanity defined as knowing deep to his/her toes that he/she is specially created, specially wanted, and is God’s child so he/she will make decisions for her life protecting this vanity that is his/her birthright.

  • Do more than cheer your teen on. Do not do that silly parent thing of rah-rahing every little thing. This comes across as shallow and stupid because even a sad teen knows what false praise feels like.
  • Failure is survivable. Perfect is too much pressure. Surviving middle school perfectly is harder to accomplish than succeeding in PE class.

These are painful years. And also joyous years. Lifetime memories are made during middle school. There is no reason why overcoming the many normal failures mixed with the joy of making first time memories and having first time experiences cannot make a better story of middle school for your beloved. Get in the mix with your middle schooler and watch it happen.

(Photo by Anna Samoylova on Unsplash)