Are We Done With Middle School Yet?

“Adolescence is just one big walking pimple.”(Carol Burnett)

Woohoo Middle School. Friend, what was your middle school, (or if you’re old like me, “Jr. High School”) experience like? Have you ever asked someone that and had them say, “Oh it was great! I loved it so much! Best time of my life!”? I haven’t. Even the kids we thought were having a great time were some version or another of miserable.

Developmentally speaking it certainly makes sense. The part of our brain that handles linear logic, risk assessment, discernment, social navigation, attachment, detachment and problem-solving snaps off like dry sticks in a strong wind when we hit puberty.

Our neural connections must be pruned in order to grow back with strength. One minute we basically know who we are and how life works and then >WHACK!< almost overnight, we become these uncoordinated, self-doubting, fearful people that we don’t recognize.

As if that weren’t hard enough, most of us then start going to school with a whole building full of kids who have likewise and literally just “lost their minds.” While shipping adolescents away to a remote island for a few years until they figure it out might sound attractive to those left behind, the only way over it is through. Those years require social challenges to help disconnected brains start to (very slowly) grow back.

So What? I can hear you now: “Tiffany, why are we talking about middle school? There are very few things I like less.” If that’s the case, why is the United States of America caught up in what feels like an unending adolescence?

Think about it:

What are the hallmarks of those years? * Ego-centric thinking – Believing that we are the reference point for all things * “All-or-None” beliefs that can’t fathom compromise or middle ground * Casting people as either heroes/angels or despots/demons * Perpetually needing to pigeonhole and group people in grossly oversimplified categories, wrapped around our limited perspectives and experiences, for the sake of our comfort, (cliques,) * Taking risks that seem insane to those who have been around a bit longer * Spending enormous amounts of time, energy and resources trying to prove to ourselves and others that we are significant * Living with the belief that life is something happening to us, or blindly trying to prove that it isn’t through dangerous posturing at the expense of others * Limited stress tolerance * A strong bent toward instant gratification * An obsession with “bigger-better-more” that strokes our egos and makes nearly every breath a competition with others for things * Difficulty collaborating with others who hold norms and beliefs that differ from our own. * A “there is only now” mentality that thinks of anything that came before us as stale, dry history to be ignored, (despite warnings about ignorance to history dooming us to repeat it.)

I could site multiple examples of each of these things in the current culture of the US. As usual, this blog is not about politics: It’s about people. Not hypothetical people – the real people around us and the real people that we are.

Fragile Like a Bomb Many people easily recognize how volatile early adolescence is. That’s probably why so many of us try to have as little to do with Middle School and Middle Schoolers as possible. Many of those who have middle school-aged kids struggle to hang in there with it for the second time. It sucked badly enough the first time! Doing it again can feel like insult to injury.

Fortunately for the entire community, there are those people who understand and adore middle schoolers. Some are called to teach them, some to mentor, some to serve as therapist to, some to be spiritual, athletic or community leaders for people in this rocky time of life. To all of you who fit in that category, we send your love, support and appreciation. The work you do is incredibly important. Additionally, you make it possible for those who resist that developmental phase to step away from the kids more, so they do less damage.

I think those who resist early adolescence do so, at least partly, because they are aware of the volatility that goes along with frontal-lobe disconnection. Adolescents, with all of that thinking mentioned above, can make some incredibly dangerous choices at times and then cuss us out for consequences of the choices they made. Exchanges with the adolescent mind can be wonderful, but they can also be terrifying and awful, and you never really know which one you’re going to get or when.

The next time you read or watch the news and hear about how other countries respond/react/avoid/aggress against the US, consider these dynamics. See if you don’t see what I see.

The People I invite you to consider how those same dynamics play out in our everyday lives. Unless we intentionally unplug or disconnect, we are continually exposed to those kinds of volatile choices being made in our communities.

Here’s one example: Just now, as I write this, a judge in Clay County, KY ruled that the school board was within its rights to dig up and move the graves located in the Hoskins Cemetery, which is unfortunately located on a small parcel of ground owned by the Board. There are graves there from 1893 forward, including Civil War, World Wars I and II, descendants of Eastern Kentucky’s earliest Euro settlers, a number of people from the cossetted multiethnic peoples of Appalachia, as well as Native Americans. Not a single family member of those interred in the cemetery approved of this plan. In fact, they were never even asked. (If you’re interested in the story, you can find more here. )

Respect and Mutuality How many of the adolescent qualities listed above can you find in that scenario? I see all of them. They do not serve us well, except as an example of what we might want to conscientiously outgrow.

When adolescents mature well, they grow a greater capacity for mutuality and respect. In a perfect world where anxiety disorders and trauma don’t exist, adolescents grow out of the need to control all things outside of themselves to feel ok inside. If we can hold the outcomes we desire with an open hand, we can then listen to people with whom we disagree. We have the capacity to consider solutions that may not be what we expected but make more sense when more factors are considered.

We then have the potential to expand our view, to build better connection with others and to do away with this illusionary hierarchy of humans that demands EITHER my interests OR

yours. We each profoundly affect one another. We can pretend that we are each self-contained little independent islands, but humanness doesn’t work that way. Being interdependent with others isn’t a weakness: It is one of the most powerful things we can do. Our strengths and creativity are multiplied, and our challenge areas become obvious so that we can strive for better.

Best yet? We might finally graduate out of our painfully destructive national adolescence. Who’s in??


Do you get caught up in Middle School-think? Want help healing your way out of it?

Contact Tiffany today. Let’s make a plan.