For a few lucky girls, middle school is merely that: a time between elementary and high school where they continue to thrive and learn and grow intellectually, emotionally and physically. For most though, the years in between are tough….full of self doubt or criticism, frought with learning how to negotiate the world of friendships without giving up who you are, and challenging especially if your areas of strength are quirky or out of the mainstream. All people want friends and want to be liked and most even want to do well in school and be happy with the way their body feels and looks. When you are 11 and one boob is bigger than the other and you have two pimples on your face and (god forbid) you like physics and your idea of an amazing outing with your friends is going to a symphony concert or the science center, feeling comfortable in your own skin can sometimes be a little tough. Most of us think that the girls who appear ‘perfect’ at this age in mind and body have it easy but I beg to differ. These girls too have insecurities and worries and self doubts. They aren’t ‘so confident’ as a wonderful sixth grade girl said to me today, they just have a better public persona. I know these girls have just as many concerns and feelings of insecurity as the more obvious misfit.
I read an interesting review in the NY Times today about a book series written for girls ages 9-13 addressing some of these real life issues in a way that appears to promote not only a love of reading but a love of self! http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/14/health/14well.html. The Beacon Street Girls series covers topics ranging from cyber-bullying to divorce to mean girls to obesity to feeling like the odd girl out because you like science. What was particularly interesting about this review was that it cited a research study which demonstrated that obese girls in a weight loss program did significantly better if they had been given one of these books at the beginning of the intervention compared to girls who received the normal program. Some of the girls were given one of the Beacon Street Girls books that focused specifically on an obese girl and some were given one of the other Beacon Street Girls books that dealt with a different middle school aged challenge. The girls given the more specific book did better in overall weight loss than the girls given the second book but both groups had better weight loss and improved self esteem compared with the group that received no Beacon Street Girls book at all. I don’t want to say that these books are the solution to all middle school issues but they do seem to have struck a chord with many girls and may provide an opportunity for your daughter or neice or friend to talk about her feelings and experiences more openly.
I haven’t read them yet but I plan to pick one up at the library or bookstore and check it out. I remember when Judy Blume came on the scene in the 70s as I was coming of age and her books were filled with ‘real life’ and ‘controversy’ and she has paved the way for a series of books that are also filled with ‘real life’ to be reborn in the time of the internet and obesity. NIce.
Read good books, talk to your daughter and let you know you love her as she is and each day will be your best!
Molly O’Shea, MD Birmingham Pediatrics + Wellness Center