The school year is beginning and many parents are focused on their children’s transition into High School, College or Kindergarten. However, there is another important transition for children, Middle School. This is a major transition for pre-adolescents. As a psychotherapist who works with adolescents, I am very familiar with what is happening on High School and Middle School campuses and how big the transition is into Middle School these days. When kids transition to middle school they have to adjust to changing classes, having more than one teacher, increased homework and they are starting puberty and unsure of themselves. They are also not sure about all the academic changes. In addition to academic changes, physical changes with their own bodies, there are all the new social issues. Friends become more important and some students are talking about girlfriends, boyfriends and sex. This is a lot to adjust to at age 11. This is why we are seeing a significant increase in the number of middle school students being diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorders (CDC) In addition to all of these changes, there are all the stories they have heard about middle school. This only increases the stress and anxiety that middle school students in 2022 are feeling.
Many parents assume middle school in 2022 is similar to when they attended middle school, however the middle school in 2022 is very different than the middle school most parents attended. One example, when I ask parents, who have a child going into middle school or a child in middle school, if they have spoken to their child about drugs, alcohol and sex, I am told no and parents are surprised I asked this question about middle school students. I hear parents say every day that they don’t need to worry about drugs, alcohol or sex with their child in middle school because their child is too young for that right now. Well the reality is that Middle School Students in 2022 are drinking, using drugs and having sex. Many parents are unaware of what is happening in Middle Schools these days. Drugs and alcohol are just the tip of the iceberg. Children that are in the age group of middle school are now involved numerous dangerous activities such as selling drugs.
To begin with, most middle school campuses are better pharmacies than your pharmacy. I have had middle school kids say they can get Vicodin, Concerta, Ecstasy and of course weed and alcohol on their school campus. Some kids use at school and some use after school and on the weekends. More and more middle school kids are deciding to experiment with drugs and alcohol due to the pressure to feel successful as a teenager and so they fit in with friends. They also feel overwhelmed by the school shootings and the pandemic and they are looking for an escape. They see other kids at school using and they want to be part of the popular group so they think about and often try drinking or vaping.
Also many middle school kids are sexually active, but they don’t think they are sexually active. They think because they are not engaging in intercourse that they are not sexual active. Most 6th graders tell me oral sex doesn’t count as being sexually active. The kids say they are just “messing around” with each other and do not consider this sex. They also have no idea about sexually transmitted diseases or how to protect themselves from contracting STDs or getting pregnant. However, the number of middle school kids engaging in oral sex and intercourse has increased significantly over the last few years. The rate is now high enough that some middle schools, such as the San Francisco School District, are disrupting condoms to middle school kids. Yes, Middle Schools are giving condoms to children in the sixth grade. These kids are only 11 years old.
Another common issue in middle school is bullying. However, we are not just talking about one kid teasing another kid at school anymore. Today there is for a group of kids teasing one kid and it is not just at school. Now kids are using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and texting by cellphone to tease and harass other kids. As many of you may recall there have been a number of kids who have committed suicide due to the teasing occurring at school. I wrote an article about a middle school girl who committed suicide and in her obituary she left a note to the other students just asking them to be nice to each other.
Another issue with teasing and dating is that students are not aware of the laws. As a result, many middle school students find themselves in trouble with the school district and often the police too. Harassment in middle school and dating often involves students texting or emailing pictures. Students are not aware that if they text a nude photo of another student or themselves that they have violated child pornography laws. Something many parents and students are not aware of is that a child can be charged with violating child pornography laws. When a child texts a nude photo of a middle school student, who is under 18 years old, it violates child pornography laws and the child who texts it and received it can both be arrested. The law is violated because the child in the photo is under 18 years old.
Also many kids in middle school, especially boys, don’t feel safe and are afraid of someone trying to beat them up before or after school. They say they have to fight because other kids are recording it and posting it on YouTube. Boys are bragging about their fights on YouTube and comparing how many people have watched their fight with their friend’s fight. Therefore, boys feel they must fight, otherwise if they don’t fight the other kids will think they are a “whimp.” Due to this fear many middle school students carry knives, metal pipes, guns or anything they can think of to protect themselves. This is very sad that kids have to live in fear for their lives and for safety reasons many middle schools have metal detectors. The number of mass shootings at schools and the mass shooting drills they do at school exacerbate this fear. It’s sad that a place they should feel safe in that students now are afraid for their lives. Also parents and students don’t realize, if a student is caught with any of these items on campus, they can be removed from their entire school district and required to go to continuation school. In addition, the school can have the student arrested. Due to mass shootings, schools take anyone possessing items that can severely hurt someone very seriously.
These are just a few of the issues that are occurring at all middle schools and they are very serious. Your child is not going to come to you to ask about these issues or tell you about them because they feel embarrassed and they are afraid of getting in to trouble. So parents even though you may feel embarrassed or awkward discussing these issues with your 11 year-old child, please do so. If you notice anything about your child’s behavior that seems different to you and you feel a sense of concern, ask your child about what is happening at school and with friends. Mention they are getting older and as a result the issues in their lives are becoming more difficult. Therefore, when you talk to your pre-teen mention drinking, sex or being teased and ask if they need to talk about it and they can talk about it anytime they need to. You may be saving their lives because they are dealing with things they know nothing about and these things can kill or have life long effects.
Here is a YouTube video that might help:
Dr Michael Rubino is an expert dealing with adolescents and adolescent issues. He has over 25 years experience treating children, adolescents, trauma victims and first responders. For more information about Dr. Michael Rubino’s work visit his website www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page http://www.Facebook.com/Drrubino3.