The Mysteries of Middle School
A Household Word Column by Carol Band

Middle school can be a scary place. Not for the 11-year-olds itching to leave the warm-and-fuzzy confines of elementary school and eat lunch with kids who shave, but for parents who have to accept that their child is growing up and entering a world where lockers have combinations and where hormones lurk around every corner.

ass=MsoNormal>Fortunately, the middle-school curriculum is carefully structured, and the staff professionally trained to help children bridge the awkward period between the elementary years and high school. For most parents, however, the middle school experience is a dark and mysterious tunnel that morphs our sweet babies into surly adolescents and makes us wonder, “Is it cocktail hour yet?”

ass=MsoNormal>As the mother of a recent eighth-grade graduate, I’ve learned a few things that I hope will shed some light into that developmental tunnel and make the next few years a little less terrifying for you:

ass=MsoNormal>1. The weight of your child’s backpack has no relationship to the amount of homework he or she must complete. An 80-pound child who drags home 40 pounds of books and papers will still claim to have no homework.

ass=MsoNormal>2. Kids who say that they have no homework should be required to clean their rooms and organize their backpacks. Faced with this alternative, middle school students will often display remarkable powers of recall.

ass=MsoNormal>3. Never ever pull up to the front steps of the school when you are driving your child to or picking her up from middle school. No matter how heavy the backpack is, your child would rather walk an additional half block than risk having anyone discover that she has parents – especially parents as weird as you.

ass=MsoNormal>4. Despite all appearances, middle school is not populated by little boys and 30-year-old hookers. Girls just mature faster. Much faster.

5. Shut up and drive. When the backseat is full of seventh-grade girls going to soccer practice or to the mall, the chauffeur gets the inside scoop. Do not try to inject yourself into their conversation or sing along with Avril Lavigne. Just keep your eyes on the road, your hands on the wheel and your ears on the backseat.

6. Know that even the most academically gifted middle school girl cares most about just three things: what she looks like, what her friends look like, and what her friends think she looks like. In three years, the situation in the Middle East will still be a mess. Your kid can catch up on global events when she doesn’t have to worry about pimples.

7. If you want your middle-schooler to eat breakfast and get to school on time, assure her that her hair looks great. Really. It’s fabulous. It will get greasy if you touch it anymore. Now, eat some cereal and get out of here.

8. Don’t worry if your child says she’s “popular.” Although the term “popular” can be a euphemism meaning that your daughter dates the high school track team, a child who boasts that she is “popular” is generally just ... popular.

9. Attend your child’s athletic events, but do not speak to other parents or cheer audibly. Never offer encouragement to your player by calling out “Run like a big boy!” or “That’s Mommy’s precious goalie.”

10. When middle school boys and girls talk about their peers “going out,” this does not mean that the young lovebirds go to the movies, hold hands or even speak to each other. These pairings are created by girls through a series of elaborately folded notes and third-party conversations. Relaying these messages and folding the notes takes away time from other activities like homework and room cleaning. Parents should encourage platonic friendships and learn how to refold those notes.

11. Four eighth-grade boys 12 Dr. Peppers = a trashed TV room.

12. Discourage parties. See #11. Forbid boy-girl parties unless this sounds like your idea of a swell Saturday: Your daughter will run upstairs in tears and lock herself in her bedroom; other girls will leave in a huff; and the boys will stay until the chips run out. Besides, analysis of the evening’s events online and over the telephone will seriously detract from homework and room cleaning for the rest of the school year.

13. When you attend parent-teacher conferences and your daughter’s math teacher says that she’s a joy to have in class, don’t look shocked and ask if you’re in the right room. Simply smile and say, “Thank you.”

Keep this list in a convenient location. You might want to post it on the dashboard of your car or tape it to the inside of your liquor cabinet. Refer to it often and hang on – middle school may seem like an endless tunnel but it’s just three years.

Carol Band has earned her reputation as the Margaret Mead of middle school. Write to her at Click here for a complete archive of Carol’s Household Word columns.