Back to school. Even though it’s a massive relief getting those stinkers out of the house, it can be stressful, too. In fact, it can be downright scary. Do we have everything they need? Are they ready? Do they still teach cursive?
Every grade is a little different. But which one is the scariest?
Sending the kids to kindergarten makes you worry about things like whether your child will play well with others, show mastery over the alphabet and — worst case — whether they’ll poop themselves at recess. After that, every year in elementary school gets a little less stressful.
By fifth grade, you’re barely aware that school is still happening, as you’re pretty much completely preoccupied by the extracurricular sports and activities that have suddenly filled all your family’s free time.
I haven’t experienced the fears associated with that yet, but from my interactions with high schoolers, it seems like they’re basically little adults nowadays. They all seem to be in complete control, generally focused on the singular activity that defines them to outsiders.
The only trepidation I can see a parent having of sending them back to school is that they might Instagram themselves wearing some awful outfit, like those joggers, or man rompers. You have to be careful what you put on social media, am I right, angry girls Little League team?
So for my money, the scariest year of sending your kid back to school is the one we’re facing in my household for the first time this year: Sixth grade.
Middle school has always been a significant transition from being a kid to being whatever weirdness is after that. But have you heard about what these kids are encountering in middle school nowadays? It’s not just sex, drugs and rock and roll. There are new things like the “pass out challenge” to worry about, where kids force themselves or others to pass out.
Things like that are so dumb that I wouldn’t even worry about them, but I fear that my son and many others just like him are totally unprepared for it. You see, my sixth-grade boy is still just a boy. Appetite and smell aside, he’s still the sweet kid who wants to play tag or Minecraft. Sure, his fastball sits in the upper 50s, but when one of his buddies steps into the batters’ box, he giggles and smiles like he’s being tickled.
Couple that with his remarkable lack of problem-solving skills, and that’s where the real fear sets in. Like the other day, we gave my son his first phone and he was unable to get past the thumb imprint part of the setup. His inability to do this was caused by a staggering series of poor decisions involving the frequency of tapping his thumb on the pad, the force of said taps and not washing his hands in the past two months.
Forget worrying about navigating the complex social structures of middle school. With kids at varying levels of maturation — I’m worried about him navigating the hallway.
It all comes back to sex
Of course, the thing that caused me the most consternation in middle school was girls. And by middle school, I mean always.
With my son, I fear that he’s even less equipped to handle those issues than I was. It wasn’t that long ago that we confirmed with him that he was legitimately in the dark about such things. A commercial came on TV about a woman having a baby when my son turned to his mother and asked, in all sincerity, where do babies come from? His mother instructed him to ask me. (She’s good).
Later, when I was putting him to bed, he asked me the same question. Caught off guard, I asked him, “Do you really want to have the sex talk right now?” Absolutely mortified, he stammered six or seven times that no, no he did not want to have that talk, his mistake, and how about that game the other night, wasn’t that something?
Since then, in lieu of having the birds and the bees talk, we got my son an illustrated book, which was very thorough and more disgusting than Sam was cutting the grayscale stuff off Jorah in “Game of Thrones.”
Anyway, the night we got it for him, we gave it to him and left him home alone for a couple of hours, certain that we gave him enough time to read it. But when we got home, we found him in the exact spot we left him, with his iPad battery nearly dead from (apparently) two continuous hours of “The Floor is Lava” or some dumb thing, and the book undisturbed.
Thrown into the fire
There are all kinds of things to worry about in middle school — the girls/boys, the increased homework, and what the hell are all these apps?
Some questions don’t have easy answers. Like how is FarmersOnly.com advertising that much?
But it all seems to work out in the end. I spent my middle school years riding my bike around town wherever I pleased, stopping to get cigarettes out of a vending machine for my elders on occasion. And I turned out fine. Ish.
I bet the same will hold true for my son and all the other Gen Z kids out there starting middle school this year, too. But it sure is scary.
Dominic Verstegen is a 40-something dad living in Phoenix and documenting his life and opinions in occasional columns. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter, @DVerstegen1.