Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Top Ten Things I Learned from Junior High (The Good and the Bad)

Junior High stunk.  I'm probably not the only one who feels that way.  However, because it stunk so much, there were many important things that I ended up learning that shaped me into who I am today.  Some of them were positive things, and some were negative.  Here's just a few of them.  This is dedicated to those kids who may still be going through the Junior High experience.

10- Friends Can be Flaky

Maybe not the most positive one to start with, but it was a new concept to me in Junior High.  I specifically remember between 6th and 7th grade my whole world changed.  In 6th grade, I had a good group of friends, and every recess we played together.  However, as we went into 7th grade, another school merged with us, and suddenly there were a whole bunch of new people that I didn't know, but my friends did.  So, I suddenly found myself isolated.  I continued to try to be a good friend, but that's hard when every time you walk up to your friends they turn their backs on you and pretend you don't exist.  

What did I learn from that?  I learned to adapt to changes.  Depending on the day, my friends may or may not talk to me, so if they did, I was happy.  If they didn't I went to hang out with someone else.  If people don't want your company, you can usually find someone who does. 

9- Abrupt Change Confuses Other People

In my 8th grade year, I suddenly got contacts.  Before that, I had really thick glasses, I always wore my hair in a ponytail, and I generally wore (comfortable) unattractive clothing.  The first day I wore my contacts to school, I also wore my hair down.  It wasn't until I started talking that people recognized me.  Evidently, I looked quite different.  

What did I learn from this?  Shock value is kind of fun when done in a positive way.  I don't usually wear makeup or do my hair still, but sometimes it's fun to just whip it out and surprise people.  I usually end up getting a lot of compliments, and then I go back to being normal.  I also learned that if you want people to recognize you, don't make abrupt changes.  It hurts people's schemas. 

8 - Kids Can Be Cruel

Kids can be jerks sometimes.  Everyone is dealing with a lot of physical and mental changes in Junior High, and sometimes it causes them to treat one another very rudely.  Occasionally, I would get picked on, but there were other people that were teased a whole lot more than me.  I remember one instance where a kid was pushed too far and jumped on his tormentor.  That made for a rather exciting class.  

For my part, my most vivid memory of this was in P.E.  The girls were running laps and the guys were all standing against the wall.  As the girls ran past, some of the guys began giving them high fives.  When I came up to them, I stuck out my hand and none of them slapped it.  Strange how something so small could hurt. 

I'm about to say something that might be termed controversial.  Bullying is a part of life.  It's not a good part, but mild bullying made me more empathetic toward others, and I learned to let things go.  I think sometimes as parents, we are way too extreme in our protection of our children.  No one wants kids to say mean things to their children, and it definitely brings out the protective instincts in us.  However, if our kids don't learn to deal with a little teasing on their own, they're going to have a pretty rough adulthood.  Kids can be cruel, but so can coworkers, peers, and bosses.  Kids need to learn how to deal with teasing without expecting their parents to come every time someone says something mean to them.  Sometimes learning to stand up for yourself is the best lesson a kid could ever learn.

I am, of course, referring only to mild bullying.  Sometimes kids don't mean to be cruel, they just spoke in haste.  However, if bullying is becoming detrimental to one's social, physical, or emotional well-being, it needs to be stopped.  Parents, teachers, and other students should protect those who can't protect themselves from any kind of abuse.  

From this lesson, for me personally, I learned how to deal with teasing.  I learned to generally assume that people weren't trying to hurt my feelings.  If I kept this mindset, often their teasing didn't hurt.  I also learned to say bad things about myself.  This is a negative lesson I learned; in fact, I'm still working on getting over it.  However, it is a facet of my personality from Junior High, so it does bear mentioning.  Let me explain my reasoning to you.  

Kids could be cruel.  However, if I said the mean things about myself before they did, I knew I was joking.  However, if I gave them the opportunity to say mean things, it had the potential to hurt my feelings.  So, the fact that I would be negative about myself wasn't because I had bad self-esteem, it was my way of protecting myself.   My husband hates it when I do that though, so I'm trying to say more positive things about myself.  I don't need the protection anymore.

7- When Times Get Rough, Turn to the Teachers

When I couldn't count on my peers, I learned to count on my teachers.  This is probably the reason that I've grown to love teachers so much.  They became friends when my classmates weren't.  I had some wonderful teachers who really cared about their students, and when I was feeling down, I could go talk to them and they would be kind.  

I used to say that I got along better with teachers than with students and guess what?  That made me a better student.  I didn't have to worry about the social scheme much, so I did my homework instead and tried to be a good student for my teachers.  

That has stayed with me since.  In a lot of my college classes I was still closer to the teachers than the other students.  That made me really like my teachers, and probably impacted my decision to become an Elementary Teacher.  (Not a Junior High teacher though.  Shudder.  That scares me.)

6 - Reading the Mood

I became very adept at reading the moods of others.  I would move from group to group and as soon as I felt like I was annoying one group, I would go to my next group of friends.  Now, don't get me wrong, I'm sure that I could be pretty annoying in Junior High.  I wasn't perfect either.  I generally tried to gauge how people were feeling that day, and if I felt like they were grumpy I would move away.  From that experience I learned to be very keyed into others feelings and moods.  

This has come in handy in numerous occasions.  I can almost always tell when something is bugging my husband, and then we can discuss it.  At work, I could tell when my coworkers were angry or grumpy, and I would become more quiet so they could deal with whatever was bugging them.  If someone is irritated, I know to leave before they snap.  This has been a very helpful skill, and I don't regret learning it, though sometimes it was hard to be a group-jumper.  You never really get close to people when you skim the edges.

5- Escapism

When life got too hard, there were always books.  I had over 1500 Accelerated Reader points every year.  I even had a competition with the Librarian to see who could read more books one year, and I won.  People probably thought that was just because I was a nerd and I loved reading, but that wasn't the only reason.  When I got really lonely, and I would go home and listen to Karen Carpenter's "Only Yesterday," and cry, I could always escape into books.  I would become someone else as I lived their lives with them.  I would have lots of friends, and often the fate of the world would hang in my hands.  I was important and loved by friends or hated by villains.  The books made me happy. 

The problem is, that escaping into books doesn't solve our real problems.  I'm been learning how to not turn to escapism when I'm stressed because then I don't do things that get rid of my stress, I just repress it.  This facet of my personality is still one that causes me problems, because often I don't realize I'm stressed.  I simply start reading or watching more television.  A lot of times, it's only when I see the symptoms that I recognize the cause.  I'm still learning how to appropriately deal with the stress of life. 

4-People Turn Out Okay

Okay, so maybe most of my friends became ostracized from me during Junior High, but that doesn't mean they're terrible people.  Even the kids that were the cruelest to me have turned into really nice adults.  I really like them.  Often, Junior High seems so huge when you're part of it, but usually we all flounder through and turn out okay.  Even moving into High School seemed to bring many students a mediocre amount of maturity.  At that point, life starts getting better again because everyone has begun to learn to deal with their new growing selves.  High School was better than Junior High, but nothing beat college!  

I learned from Junior High that we can't judge each other on how we acted when we were 12-14 years old.  It's a tough adjustment for everyone, and we need to be understanding of each other.  People have forgiven me for being super obnoxious when I was a kid.  Why can't I forgive them for responding to their own stress negatively?  

People usually turn out okay with a little patience and love, and often we don't know what they are going through.  Treat others like you want to be treated, and forgive them when they mess up.  I think that's what we'd like others to do for us.  If we all can put the past behind us and see each other for the remarkable people that we are now, I think we'd all have a lot more friends. 

3 - Extracurricular Activities are Great

Some of the lifesavers in Junior High were the extracurricular activities.  One in particular that I enjoyed was band.  I met and became friends with people that I wouldn't have been friends with otherwise.  It allowed me to excel as well and to enjoy doing different types of activities at school.

I played basketball in Junior High, and though I didn't like some aspects of it, I learned to have self-confidence.  I remember one practice, my coach put me and another girl on one side of the court and said, "Battle it out until you aren't afraid to push each other."  From people who knew me in soccer it might seem shocking that someone had to tell me that, but at the time I was taller than most of the other girls and I was afraid of hurting them.  The coach taught me to be aggressive in play, which helped me improve as a player and gain self-confidence.  I learned a lot of good things from my coaches and teachers.

I learned from this to branch out and try different things.  I wasn't always good at the extracurricular activities that I joined, but I usually had fun trying.  If kids are given a chance to look good in front of their peers, it can often change the way their peers feel about them.  It can also give them a chance to show how awesome they truly are.  Everyone has talents.  Sometimes they're undiscovered talents.  I learned to push myself to try new things, because I never knew exactly what I would be good at. 

2 - I Like Myself

This was a lesson I didn't really learn until the end of Junior High, but it was an important one.  I remember one day going up to my Mom and, sobbing, asking her when I would have a best friend.  Her comforting words were this:

"I didn't get a best friend until I got married.  It may take you that long as well."

Thanks, Mom.  

However, she was right.  Some kids are good at making best friends.  They find someone else and they just click.  I wasn't one of those people.  I was good at making friends, but often they were rather shallow friendships.  I liked to be friendly and I liked other people, but I seldom made friends on a level where I was able to share my feelings or personal thoughts.  It took until college and my mission for me to find friends of that caliber, but in the mean time, I learned that I could be my own friend.  

I like myself.  That's probably what sustained me through those Junior High years.  I didn't necessarily need anyone else to like me.  I got along great with myself, and though I sometimes got lonely, I didn't mind my own company.  I still think I'm pretty funny, and I laugh at my own jokes.

However, now I do have a best friend.  I can talk to my husband about anything, and we don't have any secrets.  After God, I'm the most important person in his life, and he's the most important person in mine.  (And then Kevin.)  It's the kind of relationship I always wanted, but never had fully realized until I was married.  So yeah, Mom was right, but I have made a lot of good friends along the way. 

This is probably the best thing that I learned from Junior High.  Even though I mess up and I'm learning to forgive myself, I still like who I am and who I've become.  Junior High, as much as I didn't enjoy the experience, was part of that shaping.  So, I'm grateful for it. 

1- They're Not Thinking About You

Out of all my memories of Junior High, this one stands out the clearest. 

I was sitting in band holding my oboe in my lap.  It was before class had really begun, and the students were sitting around talking.  No one was talking to me, and I was sitting there and thinking, "I wonder what they're all thinking about me."

Almost instantly, a very clear thought struck me:

"They're not thinking about you.  They're wondering what you're thinking about them."

The second I had that thought, I knew it for the truth.  People don't generally spend their time thinking about those around them.  Their thoughts (for the most part) are usually on themselves.  This was perhaps the most profound thought I ever had in Junior High, and it helped me to stop feeling sorry for myself.  

People are generally caught up in their own lives with little thought to spare for those around them.  Because we are all so self-involved, often it is hard for us to see outside of ourselves into the needs of those around us.  Since I gained this insight, I have found it easier to excuse and forgive others.  Often they don't mean to be insulting, they are usually just worrying about something else.  People usually don't mean to blow you off, they just were busy or had a lot on their minds.  I find it very easy to forgive people because I have realized that people are usually trying their best, and as long as they're trying, I can forgive them as many times as they need.  

Heavenly Father does the same for me.  Why shouldn't I do the same for other people? 


  1. I think my junior high years weren't that bad, just because I was in such a small school that we all had to interact with one another. Plus, I had the added bonus of my sister being everywhere I went. But I think you tried to get out there and involved, which I did not. I spent all of high school hiding in a corner until it was over, just because there were so many people that they scared me.

    1. Ha ha. High school wasn't as bad for me, because I had more self-confidence. Sadly I think your junior high was still bigger than ours, but I'm not sure. I had a graduating class of less than 100. How big was yours?