I don’t care what anyone tells you being in middle school, those grades from 5-8 are hard. Probably one of the most difficult things about them is the way our friends change in those years. I remember being in grade 5 and crying to my [awesome] teacher, Mrs. Cyr about being deserted by my friends. The challenge was that most of my friends were girls because of where we lived and how few guys were in my grade in church. It makes sense for elementary school kids to be friends with the opposite gender, but Mrs. Cyr had to tenderly teach me that girls in grade 5 just sometimes wanted to do things on their own.
That was a tough year, which signaled a few more tough ones to come! I want to share with you some things I have learned about friends in that critical middle school age and I want you to share them with your grade 5-8 kids because while knowledge doesn’t solve our problems, it sometimes removes the sting. In fact, I’m writing this blog to your kids this time.
Understanding friendship types
Girls at this age tend to group themselves by proximity. That means girls like to be close to their friends. Emotionally close. Physically close (hugging and giggling all the time). Even spiritually close. This is great! The challenge for many girls is that they don’t like huge groups of friends at once because then they don’t feel as close! And girls can be kind of mean about this. If a new girl comes to class she might be rejected or at least held at a distance because she is threatening to the close group. On the other hand, if she is welcomed into a tight group of say, five girls, one of the existing friends may be pushed out.
Boys at this age, on the other hand, tend to align themselves by affinity – or shared interests. So you have the gamers. And the volleyball crew, which is occasionally also the basketball crew. You have the church kids and the not-church kids. And on and on. There is value in this and, unlike girls, boys can be more comfortable in big groups. This, of course, means that guys don’t tend to go very deep, AND if the affinity they share is, say, drinking or smoking, you can get some very unhealthy groups of friends.
Also with boys at this age, you have what is called the lone-wolf, as opposed to the wolf-pack. The lone-wolf doesn’t fit in well and they are the “loners” in the school. I was a loner in middle school, so I know what that feels like.
Practical skills for girls
Because of the tendency of girls to limit the number of their BFF’s, challenges can definitely arise. Here are some thoughts to help you to be a good friend.
- It is possible to have many friends and some very close friends. Just because there is a group that you want to hang out with the most doesn’t mean that there aren’t other wonderful girls out there that you can be friends with. This is actually ok!
- Look for girls who are left out. Whether it’s the new girl in class or an old friend that you don’t think is getting along with someone else, pray about how to encourage them and help them feel loved. If you don’t think you can be close with someone, you can definitely pray that God brings a best friend into her life. (Prayer is a wonderful way of growing empathy.)
- Don’t gossip. Gossip is saying something behind someone’s back that you wouldn’t say to their face. Don’t do it! There’s enough girl-drama without someone hearing what someone else said about them. Plus it’s a sin and that’s serious.
- Don’t flatter. Flattery is saying something to someone’s face that you wouldn’t say behind their back. It’s fake at best and a lie at worst. Again, it’s a sin.
- Be nice. Jesus lives in your heart. That should reflect in the way you speak and act towards others.
The best way to have a great friendship in middle school is to be you! To learn to laugh at yourself when you make a mistake and to genuinely love people. Love is an amazing quality. Don’t go “fishing” for “likes” on social media. And don’t try to portray yourself as something other than who you are, a precious daughter of the King! That is what makes you special! But you will only learn that if you spend a lot of time with Jesus – a great friend will spend a lot of time with Jesus!
Practical skills for guys
Here are some tips for boys in middle school.
- Be careful who your friends are. There’s a saying “Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.” That is really true! Great friends have your back. They don’t encourage you to break the rules at school or the law. They respect that different families have different rules and that you need to respect your parents. If you are doing something that you know your parents don’t approve of, stop doing it.
- Don’t be a bully. You are a bully if you use your body or your words to intimidate someone else. The grossest kind of bullying is when a kid is picked on for something they can’t help (a learning disability or body-type.) The most noble man is the man who stands up for kids like this. Don’t be a gross bully, be noble.
- Be yourself. If you aren’t a funny kid, you don’t need to try extra hard to be funny! Try to be fun instead! If you aren’t an athlete, you can certainly push yourself to try out for all sorts of great sports, but there are other things you can do too! Start a band in your parents’ garage. Take an art class and meet new people there. But whatever you do, do it as best you can! I wasn’t an athlete in school but I learned to draw and when people found that out they admired my ability – but I had to work hard to get good at drawing.
- Don’t give in to peer pressure. It is better to go it alone than to be pressured into something you will regret. Life is full of very difficult choices, saying no to kids you want to be friends with is possibly the hardest.
- If you tend to be a loner, you need to know that you’re ok! God has plans to use kids who don’t naturally fit into the bigger group! I wonder how many artists, musicians, and authors had few friends when they were growing up. That doesn’t mean you should just lock yourself in your parents’ basement and play video games, not at all! It means you should look for the people that God is putting in your life and be open to suddenly find yourself with a great group of friends.
Finally, great friends know when to lead and when to follow. Often in groups of boys, there’s a bit of jostling to be the alpha male… the guy in charge. Remember that there are times when we all follow someone else and there are times when we need to lead. The best way to prepare to lead is to have a solid relationship with Jesus. As you learn to pray, spend time in God’s Word and serve at church, you will quietly be building this inner confidence to lead when leadership is needed!
A final word
God gives us tests all throughout our lives. And the way we handle tests when we are young will determine where God can take us in the future. One of the big tests that we face in middle school is the friendship test. If we learn how to be a good friend and how to make good friends as a kid, we will have passed a very important test!
Don’t be afraid to ask for advice! You can’t be something you don’t know how to be! So if you run into trouble with friends this year at school, it’s time to ask your parents for wisdom on what to do next.