Middle school years are hell. And 7th grade is the middle year of the hell years. 7th grade is the middle child year of three hellish children.
Let me break it down:
6th graders are the youngest child. They're still eager to please, still listening to their parents and teachers. They're still love-able. An so we spoil them.
The 8th graders is the oldest child of the three. 8th graders are more independent creatures. These kids are finally asking the question: who am I and what makes me, well... me? It can be weird and awkward and painful. But a real conversation between parent and child is possible. A word of warning, there will be grunting and eye-rolling. Nonetheless, conversations that make sense with authentic give-and-take are achievable.
The 7th grader is the middle child of the middle school family. They are the center of hell; they are the eye of the storm.
The 7th grade child is essentially insane. Out of their minds. And certainly, way too cool to listen to anything their parents have to say. Trust me, it's not you, it's them!
As my friend Franky so perfectly put it, "when she was 10 years old, I was still the hero of my daughter's life. She asked me all kinds of questions and she thought I knew everything. Then she turned 11 and I suddenly became an idiot."
Franky's daughter, like most girls, arrived at this 'hellish insanity' a little before 7th grade. What an 11 or 12 year old girl's friends say and do and think becomes more valid than anything their parents could ever say, do, or think. Once they hit that level, the hero-parent quickly fades to the back of their 'who matters to me' line up.
"Do you have any idea what it's like to be replaced by Chelsea, the know-it-all spoiled little bitch from my daughter's class? Seriously. It's all I hear - 'Chelsea said this and Chelsea said that. And Chelsea, Chelsea, Chelsea.' Fuck Chelsea!"
- anonymous fed-up parent.
7th grade boys, on the other hand, have no clue what's going on. Their brains get sucked up into some intergalactic, alien-controlled, black hole in deep deep space. They become unbelievably ridiculous and silly, while also being unbelievably moody. They're like the morose and edgy Shrek combined with the high-spirited, ready-for-anything Donkey. And you will never know which personality is about to come out. Until it does.
In a classroom, the boys bond with the boys and the girls bind with the girls. Typically. Even if the boys like the girls or the girls like the boys there remains this allegiance to the pact.
That said, this is the year that the girls claim their affection for boys. The boys are not ready for it. They don't know what to do.
Once I had a bonafide couple in my class. A young 7th grade boy and a 7th grade girl. They both came from wrecked households and were clinging to each other like lifeboats. They remained together for at least two years. It was very sweet. They were ahead of their time, but through awful necessity.
I'll leave that for another post.
In summation, 7th grade is the year of the changeling. Your son or daughter will morph from whatever sweet 6th grade they once inhabited into a whirling dervish of emotion, grunts, moans, whines and potty mouth. It ain't pretty.
Boys will lose all control of their organizational abilities. DO NOT, I repeat, Do Not go into their back pack alone. It is dark and scary. There will be clumps of papers, some of them vitally important for their classes; there will be sticky things, old food, and unidentifiable objects. Power-washing their backpack is recommended at season's end.
For the love of god, do not go in there alone.
Girls become obsessed with the in-crowd and who is popular. And sadly, many will do whatever it takes to be accepted.
Warning: watch what your daughter wears to school. Chances are, the hoodie and sweater or long sleeve t-shirt they leave the house in is not what they will walk around the school wearing. They will have a spare wardrobe somewhere in their bag or beneath the clothes they leave the house in. And that spare wardrobe is carefully chosen to reveal whatever assets they choose to show off - midriff, cleavage, legs and/or derriere. They are seeking attention that will get them accepted or attention. This attempt sometimes backfires and they gain negative labels from their peers which can be devastating.
There was once an incident in which a 7th grade girl won the affection of a boy away from his previous 7th grade girlfriend. The previous girlfriend rounded up a group of her friends. They lured the other girl into an ambush and beat her badly enough to send her to the hospital. When she returned to school, the initial girl had to be escorted by security between classes for her safety.
That is how serious it can get.
Arm yourself with support from family and friends and possibly outside counseling; your daughter may need it. And so will you!
You can do a lot to prevent a bad experience for your child by monitoring what she is wearing when she is actually in school.
But do not worry. Millions of parents have navigated this dark valley before you. You are not alone. In fact, in my former "Back-to-School" nights as a 7th grade teacher, I stopped discussing curriculum at all and took a poll of which parents in the room had already gone through the 7th grade experience with an older child and which had not. Then I created a support group. I told the parents that their children were about to be abducted by aliens and may be returned by June. No promises. Sure enough, later in the year, many of those parents returned to thank me for the 'heads-up'. My little tip helped them prepare for the rocky road ahead. And hopefully it will help you, as well.
You are not alone. There is help. Reach out, ask questions, and seek-out support groups. You will need it. We all did. We are here to help.
More to come. Thanks for reading.
Hi. My name is Stephen Tesher. I am a novelist, screenwriter, educator, and father. I've authored three books, staged numerous plays and optioned screenplays, articles, and this blog.