Understanding the Middle School Years
About the Guest
Do you remember what it was like to be in Junior High School? Rebecca Ingram Powell will refresh your memory of those middle school years and give you some solid advice for encouraging your teen through these awkward years.
Rebecca Ingram PowellRebecca Ingram Powell is a pastor’s wife, homeschooling mother of three, and a nationally known author and speaker. She is the author of several books including her newest release, Season of Change: Parenting Your Middle Schooler with Passion and Purpose. Since 2003, Rebecca has been a monthly columnist for ParentLife magazine, writing the popular feature, "A Mom's Life." Her articles have appeared in HomeLife, BabyLife, The P31 Woman, and other Christian publications as well as on numerous we...more
Do you remember what it was like to be in Junior High School?
Understanding the Middle School Years
Rebecca: Even though technology has vastly changed the hearts of people haven’t changed so when my daughter began to hit right around 11 years old the clicks and the you know you’re not as good as we are, and what’s wrong with your clothes, and your hair’s funny and you know all that stuff just like I had and with those memories a lot of bitterness that I didn’t realize was still there but it was.
This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, May 17. Our host is the President of FamilyLife Dennis Rainey and I’m Bob Lepine. You remember some of those challenges you faced during the middle school years? Are you ready to help your sons and daughters face some of the same issues? We’re going to talk about that today.
Welcome to FamilyLife Today thanks for joining us.
Dennis: Bob, what do you remember most from your… Well, they didn’t have middle school back before the earth’s crust hardened when you were in elementary school. But, back between you know the fifth grade, eighth grade what do you remember most about those years?
Bob: I remember being just kind of unsure of where my place in the universe was you know? Just kind of not sure if I fit in anywhere and really wanting the affirmation. Here’s what I remember. I remember the day this was sixth grade when I got dressed up with my corduroy bell bottom pants, and my green polka dot shirt.
Dennis: I can picture it!
Bob: Yes this was at a time for younger listeners people actually wore something like this. This was the late 60’s, and this is what they were wearing on TV all right? So, I’m dressed up in my polka dot shirt, my corduroy bell-bottoms…
Dennis: And a big belt!
Bob: Big belt – that’s right! I walked into class, and Tommy Langenbock – Tommy Langenbock looked up at me and he said, “Lippy” – he called me Lippy. “Lippy’s going mod.”
Dennis: Why did he call you Lippy?
Bob: Well – Lepine – you know it’s kind of short for Lepine.
Dennis: Oh, oh Lepine okay!
Bob: So, it was a corruption of Lepine. Lippy’s going mod, and people kind of laughed at it. Well, I thought I was going to be the new fashion statement on the campus, and it turned out I was the subject of derision for the rest of the day. I don’t think I wore that polka dot shirt ever again in my life.
Dennis: I think our listeners are laughing today even – even at the visual image of it. I remember going from fifth grade and maybe it was sixth grade - Mr. Greenstreet’s class of trading pencils. He’d find a pencil on the floor, and if it was a number three which was I think a soft lead – those were worth much, much more.
Bob: He was trading pencils?
Dennis: He was trading pencils. Hey, it was a poor area of the country that I grew up in okay? But, I remember how life was so simple in the sixth grade, but then by the time I got to junior high I’d have to say there was a ton of emotional confusion around girls – around how I felt about them, and all of a sudden you know it’s like once I was blind but now I see. I just didn’t have anybody I was talking to about any of that.
Bob: One more quick story—when I was in the seventh grade I was talking to these guys. We were listening to music together, and these guys were saying hey we’re starting a band, and my ears perked up because I thought it would be so cool to be in a band you know?
Dennis: Well, especially if your name’s Lippy!
Bob: Yes, so I said so what kind of music do you guys play in your band? Like, do you play Worst That Could Happen by the Brooklyn Bridge, which was a song that was on pop. You remember (singing) It’s The Worst That Could Happen to Me! Do you remember?
Dennis: Okay I got that big song on pop radio. The Brooklyn Bridge part I can’t remember – I’m sorry!
Bob: They looked at me like oh man, how uncool are you if you’re still listening to The Brooklyn Bridge. No, we’re playing Steppenwolf and Cream.
Dennis: Now, I’m familiar with that!
Bob: I had never heard of Steppenwolf, and Cream. I was uncool at the time!
Dennis: I have seen you perform Steppenwolf, as an adult.
Bob: But, the point is there’s this universe and it defines what acceptable is and every middle school student is trying to figure out where that is and how do I get into it because if I’m not in there life is going to be bad for me.
Dennis: You’re really breaking out of the age of innocence into a time of where an individual identity does begin to emerge. We have a guest here who’s been…
Bob: Yes, there’s a reason we’re talking about middle school memories.
Dennis: There is! She’s been very gracious! Rebecca Ingram Powell joins us on FamilyLife Today. Rebecca, you’ve been very gracious even to keep from laughing out loud even as Bob’s been singing.
Rebecca: It’s really been an experience!
Dennis: Rebecca has written a book that I’m going to recommend to our listeners especially for those of you who are about to parent a middle schooler, or those of you who are already in the thick of it. It’s called: Season of Change.
Rebecca is a writer, a speaker, she equips Mom’s in every season of parenting, she and her husband Rich live near Nashville. I like how you start the book and you share some of your own experience. So, now that Bob and I have talked about our own ridiculous experience around the middle school years what do you remember most?
Rebecca: Well, thankfully I don’t remember ever being called Lippy so that’s a good thing!
Bob: It is!
Rebecca: But, you know I’m just a little bit younger than you guys so by the time that I reached those years sixth grade was middle school, and so elementary school ended in the fifth grade. For me it ended in some different ways because my family moved so when I entered middle school it was a new town, it was all new people, it was a new culture just about it. So, for me that sixth grade year was so pivotal because everything had changed.
In the fifth grade everybody was friends. In the sixth grade especially during that summer between fifth and sixth grade when for a lot of kids the bodies start to develop there’s a whole different hierarchy.
Dennis: All kinds of clicks begin to form!
Rebecca: Clicks began to form, and I certainly didn’t have anywhere to fit in. I wanted friends of course so badly but it was evident from the very first day who the “in crowd” was.
Dennis: And, you had a girl you idolized whose name was Lindy?
Dennis: She had something that just set her apart.
Rebecca: Lindy was the most popular girl in the school and I didn’t know what it was. I was a smart kid and I figured there was an answer for everything. So, I really studied her just trying to figure out what is it that makes you popular? Because whatever it is I’m going to create it, recreate it so I can be popular too. Well, about the only thing that I could come up with that Lindy and her friends had…
Dennis: She listened to Brooklyn Bridge is that it?
Bob: (singing) It’s the worst that could happen to me!
Dennis: That wasn’t it though was it?
Rebecca: No. The only thing that I could figure out that Lindy and her friends had that I didn’t have was this certain pair of Nike tennis shoes – they all had the same pair. So, I thought if I could just get my hands on those shoes than I would be popular, too. So, now I come from a pastor’s family—Daddy’s a preacher, my Momma was a teacher, and I just wasn’t even going to ask them for those shoes because I knew they were pretty expensive.
Well, when Christmas rolled around I found the shoes. They were on sale on a clearance rack and they were on sale because they were about to be last year’s shoes. I didn’t know that. I just thought this was my chance to get a bargain on the shoes so I asked for them for Christmas. I got them, and I wore them to school after the break, and all those girls had on brand new spankin’ tennis shoes and I had last years. So, I continued to not be in the “in crowd”!
Bob: I could have given you a polka dot shirt to wear with those shoes.
Rebecca: I would have been so mod!
Dennis: You know we’re laughing about this but as kids go through the middle school years the choices that are being afforded them are life changing, life altering choices. There’s issues of crime that begins to escalate, pornography, there are relationships with the opposite sex that begin to be forged and the one we’ve already talked about – clicks begin to form. If your child falls into the wrong group that can begin to set the course for the entire high school experience.
Bob: One of the reasons we want to have this conversation today is to try to help parents understand the dynamics of these years because we get far removed from this. We go on with life, and everything moves along and we forget the traumas of fifth grade, sixth grade, seventh grade, eighth grade until somebody jogs our memory and says do you remember what this was like?
Rebecca: You know who’s going to jog your memory is your child.
Bob: Your middle schooler?
Rebecca: Because as soon as your child begins to go through those things, which even, though technology has vastly changed the hearts of people as we grow, and as we experience that coming of age – that hasn’t changed. So, when my daughter began to hit right around eleven years old, and she confronted the mean girls which we home school – I thought we were going to avoid all that but yet there were mean girls at church, there were mean girls at the ballpark.
So, she encountered the clicks and the you’re not as good as we are, and what’s wrong with your clothes, and your hair’s funny. You know all that stuff just like I had, and man those memories came flooding back and with those memories a lot of bitterness that I didn’t realize was still there but it was.
Dennis: Yes. Well, what I want to do is I want to seat a mom who has let’s say it’s a fourth grader, fifth grader, and maybe she has two or three more children that are going to go right through the same gate into the same area of life. Give her the essence of what are going to be the major challenges she’s going to face as she walks her kids through the middle school years?
Rebecca: Well, they’re going to be a little bit different for girls and boys. The common thing between those genders is going to be the choices of friendships. That is going to largely dictate how successful those growing up years will be. For girls – of course girls are focused on how they look, and our culture is focused on making that their focus.
So, we need to really as moms be very careful that we help our daughters to know – it sounds like a cliché but truly it’s what’s on the inside that counts. The girl with the most friends is going to be the girl who is the nicest one – the one who really cares about other people genuinely.
Then for our boys as they’re growing up it’s about power, and who’s athletic, who’s strong, and who gets the girls attention.
Bob: You really have to help your kids be ready to live outside of the approval of the peer group. Not that you want them to be anti social or want them to be outside of the group but if the approval of the group becomes so strong all of a sudden they can be lead in all kinds of directions. Not just what kind of Nike’s are you wearing but what kind of behaviors are you embracing?
Rebecca: Well you know as Christian parents we’re called to raise kids who are different. So, I think we get a lot of opportunities to do that even when they’re very young. I can remember my husband and I made the very controversial decision not to celebrate Halloween in the traditional way, and we made that decision long before we ever had children not knowing the effect it would have on our children’s grandparents but our kids started out understanding that we were going to be different in that area.
At Christmas we never did Santa Claus. I mean we did gifts but Santa Claus was never a pretend truth at our house which that’s an oxymoron so Santa Claus was not part of our celebration. So, our kids understood that they were different, and there was one occasion when in a Sunday school class the class was making jack-o-lanterns. When I said no Halloween, I meant anything evil looking and so jack-o-lanterns were out of the picture. So, my daughter who was just about six or seven she went to the teacher and said, “I know that my mama would not want me to do this” because she wasn’t going to participate in that activity.
The teacher said, “We’ll then you’ll have to go sit over there” – totally dismissed her from the rest of the group, and she had to sit by herself while they did the activity. Of course I didn’t know any of this was going on. After church that day my daughter told me what had happened, and I said, “You know what Danya when you’re older and somebody wants you to do what they’re doing like smoke a cigarette or drink a beer I know that you’re going to be able to be different and say no, I’m not going to do that.”
Bob: Now a little girl at age seven can do that without really being all that concerned. She can kind of be content to sit over there it’s not like it’s going to ruin her world. Get to eleven or twelve why is it that all of a sudden the choice to stand up and do what you’ve been taught is the right thing to do is a huger deal than it was when you were seven?
Rebecca: If I can answer that question!
Dennis: Well, let me make a pass at it because we all know what we’re talking about here. It is like there is a new set of gravities that begin to impact a child: A gravitational pull towards acceptance, toward being liked, toward being in the “in crowd.” You know for you it was studying this girl named Lindy who had Nike shoes.
Bob: And when you were seven you cared a little bit more about Mom and Dad’s acceptance than you might care about when you are eleven or twelve?
Dennis: Well, your own identity hasn’t truly emerged at that point and when you become eleven, twelve, and thirteen that’s a big part of growing up in those years.
Rebecca: Right and we become so self focused at those ages. I mean that’s when there’s so much going on in us. Brain development, and body development and the hormones are going all over the place. Where I think the enemy really trips up our kids is in that we think I’m the only one who is experiencing this. I’m the only one going through this. I’m the only one who thinks that I’m not good enough. That I’m not pretty enough. That I’m not smart enough when really it’s a whole generation that’s going through it, and we have to go through it in order to get to the other side.
Dennis: You know the thing I like about what we’re talking about here is it’s really important for a parent as you said earlier to remain the parent, and to be the adult, and to be mature, and to have a goal in mind and to think you know what we’re guiding our child into what is going to become some of the most treacherous years he or she will ever face: Adolescence!
How you start preparing them during these pre-adolescent years – the middle school years really sets the tone I think for what kind of relationship you’re going to have with him or her as you go through those years but also the kind of convictions you help build into that child’s life so that they have begun to make some choices to set themselves apart from the herd because that gravitational pull of peers that Bob was talking about – it’s so overpowering, so compelling that a lot of kids just completely cave in and they even surprise themselves at how they give up on their convictions.
Rebecca: As parents I think one of the best things that we can do that will help in that compelling pull is to help our kids understand who they are by helping them to focus on the gifts that God has given them. You know a lot of times we have our little kids in the things that we like to do whether it’s baseball or dance or music lessons.
When they get around ten and eleven years old we really need to reassess what we’re paying for and what we’re truly investing in. So that our kids then can tell us well I do like this and I want to continue doing this whether it’s music or dance. But, if there’s something that they don’t like to do then we need to steer them toward where they’re really gifted.
I think when they know who they are—I’m a dancer, or I’m a baseball player that can really help in that peer environment.
Bob: And fundamentally they need to know who they are in Christ.
Bob: If they know Christ, if they’ve trusted Christ they need to understand what it means to have an identity as a child of God and find their meaning, and their purpose in that because they may be a baseball player today and three years from now baseball’s the last thing on their mind but it’s their relationship with Christ that’s going to define them all the way through the rest of their lives right?
Rebecca: Right and they need to understand that God has a plan, and a purpose for them and it’s going to be unique to who they are, and how he’s gifted them.
Bob: So, if you’re getting ready to launch a child – let’s say you have a nine year old, ten year old – the middle school era is just right around the corner for you – what’s the goal? Are you just trying to get through, and survive, or what are the primary things you ought to be thinking about as a parent to be proactive as you approach these years?
Rebecca: Well, I think there are two things: I think first of all we need to really be setting the example of a love for God. And then we need to be setting an example of a love for people because middle school is very unlovable. There are a lot of unlovely people!
If we can get our children to understand who they are in Christ, and that God loves those people at their school. He loves those kids just as much as He loves them then they’re going to become a channel of love. When they can understand God loves me so I can love you, and there’s not a competition between us because there’s a level playing field at the foot of the cross. When they can understand that, I think it’s going to be a lot easier for them.
Dennis: One of the things I did in my sixth grade Sunday school class near the end after I taught the class all year was I talked about the need to go into junior high, and high school with a mission. That’s what you’re really talking about is sending your child into these middle school years with the idea that you know what? Life doesn’t revolve around you. God wants to use you to encourage other people, and to be a really an expression of His love for those people. So, if you can begin to encourage your child to think of others, and not just himself or herself.
I look back on those years in my life. I don’t know if there was ever a time in my life when I was more self-absorbed and more insecure than what we would call today the middle school years. It was a perilous time in my life, and I didn’t know who I was.
Bob: I don’t know if you know this Rebecca but for years we have been encouraging Mom’s and Dad’s to take a weekend sometime right before the middle school years – get away with your son, with your daughter. We’ve created a resource called: Passport to Purity. It doesn’t just address the purity issues although that’s a big part of what we talk about. It addresses peer pressure, and it addresses purpose. That kind of pro-activity just jump-starts the whole process in a dramatic way.
Dennis: It gives the parents a common vocabulary with their child to begin to talk about it so when these things that we’re talking about here begin to pop up you have an experience that you’ve shared together over a weekend—Friday night, all day Saturday with your child. You can revisit and talk about how this is an illustration of what you talked about previously.
Bob: Yes, in fact for a parent to get a copy of your book Rebecca and read through it before the kids head off to middle school, and then to get The Passport to Purity material and plan a weekend where they can get away and go through this material really is going to put them miles ahead as they get ready to launch a son or a daughter into what is a critical time in a young person’s life.
We have copies of Rebecca’s book Season of Change in our FamilyLife Today resource center and we have of course The Passport to Purity material. Go online at FamilyLifeToday.com. There’s more information about these resources available there.
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Let me encourage you to be back with us tomorrow when we’re going to talk more about how as parents we can have our sons and daughters ready for the middle school years.
I want to thank our engineer today Keith Lynch and our entire broadcast production team on behalf of our host Dennis Rainey I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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