When his son started middle school, Craig Playstead dreaded letting his son ride the school bus.
My son started middle school last week. I won’t bore you with all the “where did the time go?” and “it feels like only yesterday that he was running around naked chasing the dog with a whisk.” I’ve made peace with the fact that he’s not little anymore. Hitting 40 does that to a guy.
Watching him struggle to get up an hour-and-half earlier, take more time picking out his clothes than ever before, and haul off a backpack that made him look like he was attempting Mt. Everest brought back memories of surviving middle school in the early 80’s. Some memories good—most horrifying.
Starting middle school is a defining time in your life. It was for me. I knew that leaving fifth grade for “the show” meant that I had to change up my entire world. That was when I made the life changing decisions to feather my hair, not always wear a shirt with a Seattle sports team on it, and I knew I had to get a girlfriend. A major line had to be crossed from kid to guy. And I’ll be damned if I wasn’t crossing it with a little moxie.
My son begged us to let him ride the bus. He just had to and would “die” if he didn’t. Just like I knew that I had to start feathering my hair, he knew that he couldn’t have his dad drop him off at school and risk someone hearing 80′s music (gasp) or yell out one of his 77 nicknames.
I was hesitant to let him ride the bus since nothing good happens on the bus. Nothing. The bus was witness to some of the craziest moments in my life back in middle school. Bullying, getting your clothes stolen, and drugs.
Riding the bus my first day of sixth grade is when I decided I needed a girlfriend. It was less of a decision and more an assumption. Almost like they issued you one on the first day, or just paired you up in the gym after first period. I started surveying the bus and found a couple candidates who still wouldn’t look my way five years later.
I sat further back than I wanted to because legend has it: some sixth graders never returned from the back of the bus with the stoners, bullies, and burnouts. And while I wasn’t technically in the back of the bus one day during on my way home, I was close enough to hear what was going on. They were taking mushrooms they stored in a little baggie. And not the kind that sauté up nicely with a little butter. I stuck my head in a book about Rocky Blier and held my breath the rest the way home. These are the kids we’re horrified that our kids will start hanging out with. They scared the hell out of me back then, and still do today—for completely different reasons.
This all brings me back to the title of the post, “Will Your Kids Survive Middle School?” To a certain extent, how we’ve raised them the past 11 or 12 years will be the deciding factor. Nothing else. They’re officially out in the real world. Elementary school is so controlled that (with the exception of extreme cases) nothing really bad can happen.
If you’ve done your job as a dad and taught them the skills and lessons of how to survive in the real world, then you’re good. That’s 90 percent of the work. And next to providing and protecting, teaching them how to survive in a cruel world is about the most important thing we can do. If you were an over-protecting dad, it could get rough as little Pedro looks for someone to get him out of every rough spot he finds himself in—and rough spots will happen. A lot.. The last 10 percent, however, has to be done tactically. It has to be short, to the point, and it has to stick.
I only really gave my son two big pieces of advice about middle school, but in reality I could have written a book about it. I could have told him about how others will start gunning for him, about how the showers after P.E. bring little surprises and horrifying sights, that tuna fish is a terrible choice in a paper bag, and how kids go completely insane when they hit 12 or 13.
Instead, the two pieces of advice I chose were: stick up for yourself and your friends, and realize that no one is there to protect you. This is the real world, and he needs to be accountable. I didn’t beat this into the ground, but was direct. We had the discussion while shoe shopping so I think he was actually listening.
Middle school is that initial step out into that real world by themselves—and one with real world problems.
Now we’ll really see how we’re doing as parents.