Middle school is a time of great change, excitement and challenges, especially for girls. Sometimes, it’s not always so easy to figure out ways to make it a positive experience, so we asked a principal, someone who’s seen everything inside a school, to offer insight and advice.
An interview with Anna MacMahon,
Former school principal
and Executive Director of Starfish Foundation, Ridgefield, CT, USA
What were the biggest challenges you saw that girls had in middle school?
The biggest challenge was the difficulty to feel a strong enough sense of self in order to feel confident. And that intense feeling of wanting to belong often results in girls wanting to have that one best friend which leads to possessive issues, miscommunication, jealousy and a lack of self-confidence. Body issues can really start to create concern too. Really understanding and being confident in your own journey and knowing that everyone’s is different is important.
I definitely recommend being active in sports, community service and other activities that ignite interest, passion, joy and a focus on service to others. Be kind to everyone, no matter what, and you will get back what you give out. Having someone to talk to that you trust is important.
Why is it, do you think, middle school is so difficult, especially for girls?
Girls are often torn between being loyal to their family and being loyal to their friends and are confused by this sense of being pulled in both directions. This results in confusing change and navigating it can be difficult.
What is the difference between a good teacher and an outstanding teacher in helping girls thrive at this age?
An outstanding teacher understands the issues facing the children they teach and showing that they care and are willing to listen. And when listening they allow for the feelings of the young woman, rather than just telling them it doesn’t matter in the long run and they’ll get over it and they’ll look back at it soon and it’ll all be okay. The feelings matter at the time and they need support, confidence, strength, bravery and resilience to be able to deal with the confusing challenges facing them.
What is your advice to your daughter on how to deal with mean girls?
The best advice I can give is to be an ‘includer’ and that you will get what you give. If you are an ‘includer’ and always choose kindness, then these actions will be reciprocated. Also, when someone is mean, it has to do with the bully’s issues and not the person that is being teased. If you choose to be mean (and it is a choice) then the problem lies with you.
When you think about what you had to overcome in middle school, and if you could speak to your younger self about it, what would you say?
If you truly act like yourself and follow your own heart, you will be happier. Doing what you think others want you to do or like will only bring you short-term comfort in friendship. Truly being yourself will make you stronger and more confident and will attract the right kind of friends.
Tips and Tricks:
- Talk to someone you trust. This could be a parent, another close relative, a teacher at school or a family friend
- Be honest – your feelings matter; make people aware of it
- Judge less – understand more
- Be an ‘includer’ – you will get what you give
- Being yourself will attract the right people
- Be active and try different sports and/or groups – just see what works for you
- Consider becoming more involved in your community outside of school. Do some research into local nonprofit organizations and see what interests you. Maybe start a Service Club at school which works on projects for charity. Help plant trees, clean up a beach, offer to help the elderly with day-to-day tasks, volunteer at a hospital, homeless shelter or library, create an awareness campaign for a cause close to your heart or even plan a fundraising event