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Making Sense of Middle School

by Judith Warner

Pub Date: May 5th, 2020
ISBN: 978-1-101-90588-3
Publisher: Crown

In this call for change, a bestselling author examines the often painful middle school years and offers parents sound advice that will enable their children to become more empathetic, caring, and resilient.

This book stems from Warner’s unrelenting desire to find good explanations for what her middle school–age daughter was experiencing, why the parents and other children were behaving as they were, and what she could do to improve the situation. Over the course of two years, the author interviewed more than 100 people, including experts, educators, parents, and nonparents, from a wide variety of backgrounds and ages. With few exceptions, what she found was a shared sense of social struggle. In order to provide a better understanding of the middle school years, Warner begins by exploring the societal history of the 11- to 14-year-old age group from Colonial America to the present. She points out that the view of this age group has shifted over time and that mass media has contributed to many of the myths and negatives stereotypes often associated with middle schoolers. Warner also cites research indicating that our own memories of middle school may be inaccurate or incomplete. According to scientists, there is a “second critical period” of brain development during adolescence. For this reason, we were incapable of seeing the big picture without the help of adults—and our children are facing the same thing. The author stresses that parents should view middle schoolers as “works in progress” and help them develop the tools they need to thrive by teaching and modeling the ability to think and feel beyond themselves. Warner argues that the great danger facing middle schoolers today is the values (or lack thereof) that we are teaching them. “Selfishness, competition, and personal success at any cost” must be replaced with new norms. “By rethinking the middle school years,” she writes, “we have the opportunity to become better and happier adults.”

Certain relief, for middle schoolers and their parents, from the discomfort associated with a difficult period in life.