Those Clumsy Middle-school Years

By Sue Chan Acuña
By Cynthia Tobias
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Middle schoolers can be clumsy. Here is a way to help your child through those awkward growth spurts.

I once met a sixth-grade teacher who had a great idea. Why not make the classroom warmer and more inviting by using table lamps instead of relying on the harsh overheard lights in the classroom? So Mrs. Baker purchased two ceramic lamps. She placed one on the corner of her desk and the other on a counter across the room from the first.

When the principal asked about the lamps, she told him, “The first died when a student caught the cord with his foot, sending it smashing to the floor. The second met a similar fate when a student’s elbow caused it to fly off the counter. I no longer have lamps of any kind in my room.”

Your tweens are at the age where you as parents must once again guard the valuable or fragile possessions in your home. Welcome to the awkward and often clumsy middle-school years.

Their curiosity

At this stage, kids have almost the same raging curiosity they had when they were toddlers. “What’s this?” they say as they grab for the delicate object that catches their eye. They squeeze, shake and fiddle with items in order to explore and discover.

This curiosity 2.0 wouldn’t be such a big deal if it didn’t come with a matching dose of clumsiness. Middle schoolers drop things, knock them over and crash into them on a regular basis. When kids hit a growth spurt, some parts of their bodies get ahead of other parts. It begins in their hands and feet, a bit like it does with puppies. The arms and legs soon follow, and then the torso stretches.

One researcher found that adolescents can grow as much as half an inch in 24 hours — so they can literally wake up with new hands and feet. (If you want to experience how difficult that makes life, try spending tomorrow in oversized gloves and shoes.)

Lessen the humiliation

As a parent, you may find this new clumsiness merely disconcerting — but your middle schooler is absolutely mortified. It’s best if you simply try not to notice. Indeed, you’ll be a hero if you can anonymously help middle schoolers avoid situations that will make them look awkward or embarrass themselves.

When they’re not looking, move soda cups away from the edge of the table (and flailing elbows). Also, sit at the end of the row in church or a movie theater to minimize the number of people they have to climb over. You can’t prevent every accident — sometimes they appear to trip over their own shadows — but whatever you can do to lessen the chance of public humiliation will be helpful.

Preserve dignity

Avoid drawing attention to your middle schooler’s clumsiness. You can’t laugh with middle schoolers because they’re too busy squirming with embarrassment to laugh at themselves. And never discuss their new awkwardness in front of them, especially with other adults around. Do whatever you can to help preserve their dignity, even if that means resisting the urge to ask if they’re OK. It doesn’t take much to make your child feel self-conscious, and being able to save face is everything in their world.

This article has been adapted from Middle-School: The Inside Story © 2014 Cynthia Ulrich Tobias and Sue Acuna. Used with permission.


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