Being new to middle school can be both scary and exciting for kids (and moms). Kids may learn a new language, make a new friend, and learn new life skills. Entering middle school has many positive and exciting new things.

However, kids will face new challenges and situations that are unexpected and scary. Being a child in the tween years is just plain hard, but as a mom preparing to send my second tween to public middle school this fall, I know from experience what to tell him.

For those who don’t have a tween yet, let me paint you a picture of their mentality.

Shake up half a twelve pack of pop cans, have someone mix them around on the table while you aren’t looking. Open the cans one by one. As a parent of a tween, that is how life feels. I never know if my question will be answered like an explosion or as a refreshing mom moment to cherish. Tweens’ emotions can be extreme and intense at times.

Tweens are still kids who are learning about life and how to act. My hope is to prepare my tween to help him handle the hardships of middle school in the best way possible. I remember how hard it was to be a tween so I try to keep that mindset as I parent my son. I need to be forgiving and show my tween son unconditional love.

Here’s what I’ve told my son.

The word suicide suddenly will enter kids’ vocabularies.

Last spring, I went to pick up my oldest son at middle school. I saw a group of boys laughing. I knew the boys because my son had spent time with them socially and in sports. I opened my window and motioned my son over.

I watched him walk and I was struck by how much he looked like a man complete with a swagger and hair flip. It made me smile and realize time was going too fast. The other boys kept talking together and I heard one boy shout something to another that shocked me.

“Why don’t you go suicide yourself!” the boy shouted to another boy.

I won’t lie. I was quite shocked. I questioned my son about it after he hopped into the van. He said they were just joking and he dismissed it because all the kids say that kind of stuff. He wasn’t a bit bothered by it, but as a mom, I was flabbergasted.

Suicide jokes aren’t funny.

I know depression, and it’s not funny. This made me instantly worried about my second son who is about to start middle school. He takes all comments to heart. I began to think about how I could prepare him for middle school, so I told him that story.

I also told him kids can be mean, even more so than in elementary school; something I didn’t expect when my first son entered middle school. I told my new tween one person’s opinion of him doesn’t define him. I told him if he allows that person to define him, he is giving that person power over him. I told him he has the power to believe what he chooses to believe.

I’ve told my tween he will go through a lot of physical changes during middle school. Tweens going through a new physical development are particularly vulnerable to insults. They often already feel self-conscious about their changes, so when peers point them out or make fun of them for the new changes, their self-esteem plummets.

A tween’s self-esteem is delicate. It is especially vulnerable to mean attacking words from peers. Those mean words hit hard and deep. I need to build my tween up and lay the compliments on thick. I repeat the compliments so they stick.

In middle school, he might lose friends, he might gain friends, but true friendships are the ones that last through circumstances and time. I’ve told my son true friendships are positive interactions.

Tweens start to notice the opposite sex and being boyfriend and girlfriend starts to happen, and they text and facetime. Talk to kids about rules before this starts (and so they don’t hide it from you).

I told my tween sports are fun, winning is fun, but winning just won’t matter in the long run of his life. In his future, it won’t matter if he made or missed that basket in the basketball game or if another kid picks on his skills in gym class. What matters is how much effort he put into it and if he tried his best. Plus, did he have fun. I remind him for most adults, sports are a leisure activity, not a career so don’t worry about how kids react to his sports abilities.

Kids might bring alcohol or drugs to school. I admit when I heard about this happening at my son’s school I was shocked. The kids seem way too young for this type of thing. But, there will be some kids who bring it to school and whether he sees it or not, he probably will hear about it. I tell my son he is not allowed to use any drugs or alcohol ever. Not even once to try it.

Most tweens have cell phones. I like mine having a phone so I can contact him plus because of the Life 360 app that tracks his phone’s whereabouts on a map.

Social media matters to tweens. A lot. I tell my tween he needs to think about what he is posting and does he want his parents to see it, his future spouse, his future potential employer, or even his own kids someday. If not, then don’t post it. Ever.

Cyber bullying on social media is very real and it is hard to control. No one can control cyber bullying because kids are at the mercy of each other. I hope to build up the armor of positivity to help him weather any cyber bullying he might encounter.

Tweens are kids who are still vulnerable. I remind my tween son of personal safety not only with peers but even with teachers and other adults at school. We had a teacher who hit two students last year. It happens.

Kids need to be responsible for their own work and schedules. Teachers are more strict than elementary school and they will have six teachers with different rules. Use a planner if needed. Time is short, I tell him don’t dawdle between classes.

Lunch is overwhelming at first with more kids and more food choices. I tell my son to pick a table to meet friends at and be responsible with food choices (no cookie-filled lunches).

Sometimes school sucks. Sometimes teachers suck. I tell my tween sometimes it does suck, but the parts of life that suck won’t suck forever. I remind him the stint of tweenhood is but a short period in his life.

I’ve told him life isn’t always fair. Other kids will get more play time in the game, more teacher attention, and more friends. Some kids will get a better team of teachers. Some kids will get more free time because they get less homework. The sooner he realizes this the sooner he won’t be a slave to it.

I tell my son it will be a whole new fascinating world at middle school. Middle school is great because he can try new things, and yes, tweenhood is tough, but it’s short. I tell him I’m here for him no matter what he tells me so he won’t hide things from me. I’m a tween mom, and I’m lucky to be one.

Deep breath, I know I can handle this…

What Your Middle Schooler Needs to Know

Julie Hoag

Julie Hoag is a freelance writer and blogger, wife, and mom to three busy boys, & fur mama to two rescue dogs and two guinea pigs. She writes on her blog about motherhood, kids, family, recipes, DIY, travel, and faith. She is a vegetarian who loves to cook and create recipes when she’s not driving her three boys all over town to sports practices in her crumb-filled minivan. In her past life she has worked as a Scientist and Medical Data Manager, a pediatric nurse, and a SAHM. She loves to volunteer in her kids’ schools and help fundraise money for their schools. She is a Christian who loves nature, animals, traveling, gardening, swimming in her pool, and simply spending time with her family. Her favorites are dark chocolate, red wine, and cheese with yummy bread.