Middle school is known for extreme awkwardness. When you walk into a middle school you are hit with an eclectic myriad of misfits. Some of them have the shadow of a beard or at least a squiggle of a mustache while others look as if they were still 8 years old. You can find backpacks that sparkle with HelloKitty logos or you can find lockers that are decked out in alarming posters meant for a far older audience.
There is a unique and powerful odor throughout the whole building. Deodorant should definitely be given out at the door as this particular hygiene habit is still new and often forgotten. There are more braces, pimples, and attitudes present than anyone knows what to do with. It is a vast wasteland of in-between where no one knows who they are or where they are going. Everyone is just fumbling around with gangly limbs and uncertain hearts trying to grasp some semblance of security.
Few of us have any warm feelings regarding our own middle school years. We tend to try and block them out, only really facing them when someone dares to bring out a humiliating photo from those dreaded days. Watching our kids enter these awkward years is equally cringe-worthy. Part teenager, part baby our early-pubescent wanna-be-adults are about to enter a terrifying arena. The careless days of childhood are fading and a cold reality awaits.
Friendships are about to get complicated, suddenly status will mean more than loyalty. Social, academic, and extra-curricular pressures will face new extremes. The world will begin to force-feed them its deceptive opinions on beauty, identity, and value. They will be faced with decisions and situations that we can no longer swoop in and save them from, even though our hearts long to do that more than anything.
These years are certainly difficult ones. But in the midst of the awkward, the confusing, and the change arises a unique and powerful opportunity: The invaluable chance to stand face to face with fear and come out on top. It is impossible to live life without facing circumstances that feel overwhelming and bigger than us, and middle school is a season where this is especially true. As parents, we have spent years instilling values into our kids. We have tried to encourage kindness, compassion, a good work ethic, respect, and brushing their teeth at least once a day, just to name a few. But there are some things no amount of prodding, reminding, or lecturing can teach. Some of life’s greatest lessons can only be learned by living them. Middle school provides the boot camp for one of these vital lessons: Courage. It is what will push them to do hard things, to overcome apprehension and self-doubt, to face their fears head-on and find they are stronger than the fear, and to stand firm to what they believe even if they stand alone.
It starts the first day they walk through those middle school doors. They are no longer the biggest and oldest in the school. Now they are very clearly the youngest and no amount of poorly applied rookie make-up can hide that fact. Yes, their very first appearance in middle school certainly feels daunting, walking into that building takes boldness amidst uncertainty. As the year goes on there will be chances to try out for the team, audition for the play, or join an academic club. None of these things will be easy, and their newly heightened insecurities will make these steps even more unnerving.
As they take on these intimidating tasks, we get to be their biggest cheerleader and their most enthusiastic fan. Our confidence in them will bolster their courage to do the hard and scary things. With each small step they conquer they become more assured of their capabilities to overcome a greater challenge. Courage is a skill, and like all skills, it gets better with practice. Middle school will offer them lots of opportunities to practice. The practice they get here will lay the foundation for the ability to make the right choices in the future, no matter how hard, no matter how scary. It will empower them to say no to the drugs, the toxic relationship, the illegal “fun”. It will embolden them to stand up for the outcast, follow their dreams, and stay true to who they were meant to be. Courage is the springboard for every other virtue, without it the others can never reach their full potential. And middle school provides the greatest opportunity to master it. So, maybe, just maybe, these clumsy and cantankerous years are actually the most beautiful of all.