The subject you have dreaded to discuss is at hand. It’s time to talk about those uncomfortable middle school topics with your children, isn’t it? I’ll make it a little easier by getting the hard stuff out in the open for you to find the bravery you need to face those sweet children of yours.
Middle school is just awkward. Hormones are raging, voices are squeaking, cliques are forming. Everyone is experimenting with their identity while trapped in a stage of development they won’t be in long enough to commit to.
The girls are taller than the boys, the boys are showing off their sparse but technically visible facial hair. Where girls used to giggle over crushes and boys blushed at the attention, in middle school a lot of kids actually start – gulp – noticing each other for real.
The stakes are raised and suddenly we realize that our kids’ bumpy trip down puberty lane isn’t the only awkward thing about middle school – we have to handle some pretty awkward situations ourselves.
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Communication Matters in Middle School
Communication with your children will always be important, no matter how old they are. Even when they’re grown and gone, your sage wisdom and calming voice will still soothe them and help guide them through life. But for your kids to know that they can come to you with anything, you have to make sure that they know they can come to you with anything. So you’ll have to talk with them about, well, everything.
The easiest way to discuss uncomfortable topics with your children without it becoming too awkward is not to wait for one big conversation. Ideally you’d start to casually pepper in a few words here, a concept there over the years, and their understanding would naturally grow as they ask questions and you answer them. They’d learn in an organic way that doesn’t involve one big, traumatic, dramatic talk.
If you don’t have the benefit of going back in time and starting these conversations from a young age, don’t worry! Even if they’ve already begun middle school, you can still begin impactful, educational discussions with your children over difficult, uncomfortable topics. Waiting for one big talk just adds to the discomfort and uneasiness, makes the topic seem like it was taboo or secretive, and makes it more difficult for your child to come to you later on with questions or issues.
But maintaining an open dialogue over time about topics that might normally make others blush will signal to your kids that you’re a safe place. You don’t shy away from what they’re curious about – or afraid of. Even if you have to fake your courage.
One uncomfortable topic that becomes particularly important during the middle school years is personal hygiene. Those brand-new hormones are doing brand-new things to their bodies. As much as they read about what to expect, middle schoolers seem to struggle with how to care for their new bodies.
There’s a delicate balance between reminding a kiddo to put on deodorant and embarrassing them, a fine line between shower and shaming. Frame the maintenance of their bodies in the context of self care, good stewardship with what God’s given them, rather than avoiding “stinky” situations. You’d much rather them bathe out of pride than shame and leave the house confidant that they’ve cared for themselves, not afraid for someone to stand downwind.
These two books were very helpful to me – and my children!
Middle schoolers today have near-instant access to just about anything they could want to see. Gone are the days of magazines hidden under mattresses and late-night cable channels. Pornography is practically in their back pockets, accessible not just by a quick search on their phones, but through social media, or even texts. People tend to treat their phones as extensions of themselves so it can easy for a discussion over internet safety to feel like a battle between you and your child.
Make it clear that you aren’t trying to limit their internet usage or take away their phone. Emphasize that it’s the people on the other side you don’t trust, not them. But do not be afraid to install filters, accountability software, or even timers on your children’s devices. Privacy and access to these devices are privileges, and both come with the understanding that you are free to inspect messages and social media accounts at your leisure.
Remember, though, that no matter how much your child avoids pornography on their own, they are incredibly likely to see at least a few images just by scrolling. Hacked accounts, ads, other accounts sending unsolicited messages with explicit photos attached, friends texting racy photos… The task isn’t simply helping your child avoid sexual imagery but equipping them with the tools to help them handle themselves when they do inevitably stumble upon porn.
Explain how the brain reacts to sexual stimuli, eventually needing more and more. Explain how addiction works. (The book Good Pictures, Bad Pictures can help with this conversation!) Explain how sending or keeping inappropriate photos of underage minors is illegal, as is sending inappropriate images to minors. Share and be honest about how this will be a daily struggle, how advertising and social media continue to flood us with sexual images daily, and that there’s not an age you reach when it doesn’t affect you.
Come up with a plan, a practical, step-by-step plan, for them to follow when they are faced with pornography. Report it to you, perhaps? Block someone? Help them figure out what to do beforehand so they don’t freeze when the time comes. (Again, the book Good Pictures, Bad Pictures can help you make a good plan.)
A discussion of pornography, of course, cannot happen without first The Talk, the big one, the birds and the bees – sex. This is one of the most important topics to discuss early and often so that your child knows you’re a resource available to them and that you’re available for questions. Remember – do not sit them down for one big sex talk, and do not let them see you squirm.
If your kids express embarrassment simply remind them that sex is natural, it’s how God intended for our bodies to work and for husbands and wives to love one another. Middle school is the age when your children will know someone who is having sex, so the topic is unavoidable, and it is of the utmost importance that your child learn from you, not their friends (or movies, or social media, or just books).
If you’re uncomfortable discussing sex, practice talking about it. Really. In the car, in the shower, whenever you’re alone, just start saying, “Sex, sex, sex,” over and over. Say anatomical terms. Out loud. Get comfortable with hearing your voice say them. It’s inevitable that your child will hear a sexual rumor or joke or innuendo they don’t understand, and they’ll need someone they’re comfortable with to ask about it.
If they ever find themselves in an uncomfortable or dangerous situation, if they make a mistake, if they’re scared or confused, if they’re struggling, they need to know that you are there, ready, willing, and able to help them. They do not need to feel the burden of embarrassing both of you. Practice discussing sex. Don’t lower your voice when you say that word or name body parts – they’re not dirty words. And yes, you’ll have to admit and acknowledge that you’ve had sex, too.
Any or all of these books can be helpful to start conversations or even to do the teaching for you.
Uncomfortable Middle School Topics Matter
Start getting comfortable with the idea of talking about uncomfortable middle school topics. This time period is the holding area before our teenagers start driving, working, and visiting colleges. There’s a lot coming up that will be new for all of us, a lot that’s new and scary. The best thing we can give our kids is a safe place to come back to when everything else gets scary.
Elementary was about building the foundations for math and reading, but middle school is where we build the foundations for the people they’ll become. These beautiful babies of ours, growing up before our eyes, awkward in this in-between stage, are uncomfortable enough with all of the changes they’re going through and the world they’re doing the changing in. The least we can do is to show some comfort and confidence with topics that scare and embarrass them. Even if we have to fake it.
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