“Teach middle school,” they said. “It’ll be fun,” they said. Twelve years later, and I have experienced my share of heartache, love, and laughter with teenage girls. Middle school is the time when a girl transitions from braids with beads to body waves and pin curls. It’s also a time when she sees the world differently and tries to find her place within. These four lies came straight from a mature eighth grader and I asked her if I could share. The commentaries are my thoughts on how to help our girls navigate the murky tides of middle school.
1. I’m fine.
If their body language says, “I’m sad,” they are. If their body language says, “I’m tired,” they are. If their body language says, “I’m angry,” they are. Middle school girls hang their hats on these two words: “I’m fine.” It’s almost never true. At the first ping of the words “I’m fine,” it may not be instantly time to spring into action. When I’m fine becomes a pattern, then it’s time to move like the stealthy parent you are. Girls need a safe space where they can express what they are really feeling. Once they voice pinned up emotions, the grass becomes green again and the ocean is blue. However, you can’t create the space if you don’t fully listen without judging and jumping in with all of your infinite wisdom. If you’re prone to quick judgment, rages, and interrupting, call in an auntie or a big sister to help. This is where godmother’s come in handy.
2. I don’t like anyone.
Ha! There’s always a crush somewhere. It’s a girl’s rite of passage to fantasize about a boy. She’s programmed that way. Society dictates that women marry and live happily ever after. We want that for our girls. Unfortunately, we live in an oversexed society. It’s important that we help girls visualize the best type of man who will suit them. One idea I’ve used to shape their thoughts is composing a letter. In this letter, allow her to brainstorm the qualities, looks, and characteristics of the man she hopes to connect with (as an adult). Read the letter with them. Find out why she listed certain qualities. Keep the letter. In high school, when she’s met the love of her life, re-read the letter with her. If the young man does not match up with what she stated previously, then it’s time for a deeper discussion. I’ll leave that to you, mom.
3. That’s my last piece of gum.
I know teachers don’t want children to chew gum in class. But seriously, your girls need gum in their purses. Make sure she has extra gum. Gum is top ammunition against adverse actions in middle school. It’s like giving a child a water gun filled with water. She can choose who gets gum and who doesn’t all the while keeping her own breath fresh. It’s the best way to make friends, learn boundaries, and reduce paranoia. A girl with stinky breath is a middle school nightmare. The conversations that occur about children with hygiene issues are brutal. No one can survive the torture. Buy her gum, and encourage her to share it with friends. Then, she’ll be known as the girl who shares
4. Just kidding.
Comedians get paid to tell jokes, not twelve year olds. No one wants to hear a child make fun of herself, nor the people around her. It’s mean. The problem that black teens often face is black culture demands that children learn putdowns from adolescence through early adulthood. Teach your girls that self-deprecation is wrong. Teach them insulting others is wrong. They can choose not to participate and not to support such behaviors. It only takes one voice.
Remember, these are the years when kids make decisions about who they will become as adults. The next generation needs us to be there for them like never before. Be ready to combat these top four lies. Your children will thank you for it (like maybe, duh!)