middle_school_by_scotty_reifsnyder_2By Sarah Vander Schaaff

Last year, I interviewed a teacher just before the start of middle school. She gave us some great advice and framed her discussion with this point: This is a time where kids are tested, especially socially, and they begin to solidify who they are as people.

So with back to school already in full swing for some of you–and on the horizon for others–I though we’d take another look at this interview. It may be of great value for kids (and parents) of all ages.


• Know the values of your family and your school and don’t be afraid
to stick to them: kindness, empathy, hard work, truth, etc. This is
your foundation, the principles that you fall back on, especially when
it’s time to make a difficult decision.

• Work hard to do your best, and know that if you put your best effort
into your work there is no reason to feel bad about a grade, test
score, or moment on the sports field. In short, you can’t measure your
success against that of someone else. Do your best, and feel good
about it.

• Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. Be your best self.
Don’t try to be someone you’re not just to fit in.

• It’s okay to fail. It’s even good to fail – but with some caveats.
It’s important to learn to take risks, especially intellectual risks,
but that means that you might fail. Provided you’ve done your best and
been thoughtful and thorough in trying, failure is okay! It builds
character and helps you learn how to do things better the next time.
Middle school is a perfect time for trial and error because kids learn
real life lessons at this age that will stick with them forever, but
the stakes aren’t as high and the consequences aren’t as dire as in
high school and beyond. So, try something new, but be thoughtful and
intentional about it, and if you fail, don’t see the whole thing as
useless. Instead, examine your failure to see how you will succeed the next time around.


Parents cannot and should not try to protect their children from failure. It does the children a disservice in learning about life, and though parents don’t realize it, their unintended message to their children is that the children aren’t capable of doing things without parental help. Let your children fail! (Of course, I don’t mean failure due to laziness or irresponsibility; that’s a different story.)

In addition, parents are worried about the advent of sex, alcohol, and
drugs in middle school, and they have legitimate concerns. I believe that
if children have a rock-solid foundation of knowing what they stand for
and feel supported in their values, then they are more likely to make good
decisions when presented with peer pressure and potentially difficult
situations. Saying “no” goes against conformity sometimes, and it takes
strong character to stay true to oneself in the face of peer pressure.
Building on that, in the age of greater awareness about bullying, the
values of empathy and doing what’s right, extend to defending others (like
a classmate who might be bullied by a popular kid).

Have some concerns or advice of your own? We’d like to hear from you.

The fabulous photo in this post is from an article on Harvard Ed, “Do Middle Schools Make Sense?” by Mary Tamer.

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