Every year I counsel parents and middle schoolers about the ebb and flow of friendships in this age group.
In lower grades, it seemed easier: everyone who liked to play soccer would get together on the field at recess. Those who preferred the Big Toy would hang out there.
Everything is different in middle school. Because kids mature at different rates, friendships change – often without warning. Friendships are based on common interests, because “If you like what I like, that validates my choice.” And boys who aren’t interested in sports or girls – or girls who aren’t interested in make-up or boys – will find themselves adjusting their friendship circles.
Middle school is also when the whole class is no longer invited to birthday parties. Some middle schoolers are allowed to have their first boy/girl parties, which creates all kinds of social calamities as feelings get hurt when one’s not invited.
It helps to remind middle schoolers that this is a difficult time everyone goes through, but things usually get better in high school, where there are more clubs and teams to join. Most teens find their niche (or their “group”) by the time they’re 15 or 16.
My advice to parents is to step out of “Problem Solver” mode and work more on “Good Listener” mode. Give lots of empathy – “It’s hard when things change, isn’t it?” – but don’t feel like it’s your job to make the bad feelings go away. Middle schoolers need to feel they’ve been heard and understood, and then they can move forward in dealing with feelings and social issues on their own.
Friendships change like the tides – it’s a parent’s job to be the anchor.