I first met Michelle Icard last summer as we discussed a film on the media’s impact on body image for a radio interview, and I felt a kinship to her instantly. Michelle is thoughtful and smart, funny and compassionate, and as passionate about supporting middle schoolers in their transformation to their best selves as I’ve ever seen. She’s the girlfriend we all want to have, and I feel lucky to call her one of my friends. Michelle created and runs two amazing programs for middle schoolers- Athena’s Path and Hero’s Pursuit- that teaches middle schoolers the skills they need for satisfying, self-reliant lives. She also gives parents what they need at MichelleintheMiddle.com. A lot of you are still dealing with middle school angst, this time because your kids are in the midst of it. Given that, I thought I’d introduce you to Michelle today with this guest post! Enjoy!
Do you know the number one fear of middle schoolers? When I ask this to groups of teachers or parents they generally come very close to the right answer, offering up things like, “not being popular”, “getting acne” or “being embarrassed in front of peers.” Yes, all of these are potentially frightening to kids in 6th – 8th grade, but they are smaller examples of a more global fear. The number one fear of kids in middle school is not being normal. What is a normal girl? Struck by what she learned as a middle schooler in Athena’s Path, 17 year old Haley W. of Charlotte, NC explored this concept for her high school senior exit project. Please take a moment to show your daughter Haley’s postcard on which she manipulated a photo of her friend to look more “normal” by media standards. Which one does your daughter like better?
So what’s the number one fear of adults? Public speaking. Not heights or snakes or even death. How often are we, as adults, forced to face that fear? It varies, certainly, but probably not very often. I speak publically a couple times a month, but for most people I’m guessing it’s more like a few times a year. A middle schooler faces her worst fear every day, all day. How exhausting! Opportunities to feel abnormal are abundant in middle school…just walk into a cafeteria, ride a school bus, or pick up a yearbook to feel that hit home. When talking with your middle schooler, tell her “that’s perfectly normal” as often as you can, and back it up with examples. Haley’s stats on weight are eye opening for younger kids. You don’t have to be a fountain of data to give examples, though. It’s enough to be anecdotal, as in “I felt that way at your age and still do sometimes”. Be willing to open up about your feelings around what’s normal and encourage your friends to do the same around your middle schooler. Kids in the 11-14 age range are so self-focused that sometimes what seems obvious to you may not hit your kid’s radar. Hearing you and your friends celebrate differences all around you is a great way to remind your daughter that being different is normal.