The Hardest Part of Middle School, Why It Is Killing Our Girls, And How We Can Save Them.

Laura Phelps
blog banner 2018.08.06

I arrived at the home of an 8th grade boy, whom I had never met. I had no idea what his mother looked like or what her name was.  My daughter, also an 8th grader, had texted me the address. The instructions were to show up, silently take pictures, and leave.

It was the highly anticipated 8th grade dance, and this moment was the infamous “pictures before the dance” event. It was all a very big and important deal, and by invite only. And to be honest? It was weird.

Let me tell you why.

The girls?  They were all beautiful. Not that being beautiful is a problem, but I mean…they were crazy beautiful. As in, they looked like they were thirty years old beautiful. The dresses their teenage bodies were poured into were a far cry from what I wore to my 8th grade dance. Honestly? I think I wore a circus tent that my mother found on the floor, beneath the sale rack at Burlington Coat Factory. That is not even a joke. If I find a picture I will post it to prove it. But these dresses? These were adult woman, red carpet dresses. Cut low, and hemmed high, if it were not for the braces and awkwardly posed selfies, you would never guess they were just fourteen. And yes. I was the mother who brought my daughter’s dress to the tailor to sew up the plunging neckline, and who had to resist the urge during picture taking to run up to my sweet and innocent girl, pull her dress down, all while praying out loud to Saint Maria Goretti.

I have two incredible daughters. One is the nose pierced, dressed in all black, insanely talented artist who is “room cleaning” challenged, did not have a date for the 8th grade dance, and who has a plan to skip college and become a successful and highly sought after tattoo artist; a dream I have come to peace with. The other is the long haired, varsity cheerleader with a boyfriend on the football team, and who keeps her room clean with a plan to get married young, become a mom, and do good work as a therapist. They are different in so many beautiful ways, but at their core, both girls are compassionate and hysterical and I am proud to say, have a personal relationship with the Lord.  They have their own “friend group” and they keep busy with art, school, cheer practice, work, social activities with their peers, family time, as well as their fair share of hours in front of a screen. On the outside, they are typical and healthy girls who are doing great. But spend a little time with them, and you will quickly learn that on the inside? On the inside they feel anxious, depressed, ugly, and often very much alone.

And when I was their age, guess what? I felt that way, too. And it almost killed me. I think it is killing our daughters, too.

Does that sound too dramatic? I recognize it might. And yet, I will not edit my words. I have four children and I have watched my very own race a million miles in the wrong direction, all in the hope of fitting in. And yes. Death is a very real option if we do not catch them in time. And as I presently travel a road I pray no parent ever has to travel, I know that the truth is….many of you are already traveling it…and many more of you will. And so I feel charged to proclaim the truth of what is happening even if it hurts your ears and pierces your heart. I feel obligated to break this “kid code” that our children are living by and forcing us, as parents, to cooperate with; this “do not say anything to that parent of the kid bullying me or that teacher who treats me unfairly, or  to the mom of the underage kid who is drinking because if you do, you will make life for me worse” code. Have you heard your own child say this to you? It is an incredible system our children have silently agreed to follow, leaving parents feeling helpless, and putting countless young lives in real danger.

Sisters, the truth is, our girls are slowly dying. And it starts in the Middle School.

Before sitting down to write, I threw out a question on my personal Instagram account asking young girls, “What was the hardest part of Middle School for you?” Many responses came in, and they all said the same exact thing.

FITTING IN.

One girl brought me to tears, sharing, “If you do not fit in, you are nothing, which is obviously not true, but the feeling kinda’ starts in middle school.”

Another wrote, “The hardest part for me is learning to stay true to myself and not go with the popular kids.”

Both girls address the lie, and the pressure it places on them.  Is it better to be popular by being someone God did not intend you to be? Is it better to fit in even if it means being someone you are not?  According to the responses left in my feed, these are the serious struggles, and all too often the answer to these questions is an astonishing and most heartbreaking “yes.” Most girls will do whatever they need to do in order to fit in. I spent the majority of the day wishing I could cup these girls faces in my hands and through my own tear filled eyes tell them,  “You are not nothing. You are chosen. You are beloved. Do you understand that? You are not nothing.”

My daughter’s friend was over the day my own Blaze Kit arrived, and so we went through it together, like kids on Christmas morning. I pulled out the “truth vs. lie” cards and read them out loud. Everytime I read the LIE (“I need a boyfriend to be happy”) the girls would giggle then say, “Oh yeah, that IS true!” And sure, they were being silly, but even so, I had to pause and think about it. In their heads they knew these were lies. But in their hearts, they believed otherwise. Because the truth is, they are fed the lie more than they are fed the truth. And as far as I can tell by my own weekly grocery bill and the size of my children, if you want something to grow, you feed it. And so I have to wonder. In a world that will not rest at feeding our young girls lie after lie, are we doing our part? Are we feeding our girls enough truth?

I absolutely love how Lisa Brenninkmeyer opens the lessons in the Blaze Middle School Curriculum by quoting not Jesus, not the Pope, not a Saint. She quotes Taylor Swift. “Unique and different is the next generation of beautiful. You don’t have to be like everybody else. In fact, I don’t think you should.”  Wonderfully said, Miss Swift. I believe this, and I am sure you believe this too. Now, we need to convince our girls.

On our way home from cheer practice, I shared with my daughter with her BLAZE water bottle in hand, that even though she was going into High School, the BLAZE program would be really good for her and her friends….and that maybe…I would lead them through the study. I honestly don’t remember her response, which could go both ways, and if I am being honest there was the whisper in my head saying, “Good grief, Laura, you don’t have time to shave your legs, how on earth will you add this to your plate?”  But here is the deal. I can’t lose another child to this Godless world that throws empty lie after empty lie in their faces and leads them away from Christ. I just can’t. Our children are dealing with very grown-up issues and enormous feelings at an incredibly young and impressionable age. They are self-harming by cutting, vaping, underage drinking, experimenting with drugs, taking pills, being sexually active, fantasizing about suicide and going down some very dark and frightening roads, and I am telling you, more than half the time we have no idea. Not because we are not present. Not because we are bad moms. But because the world is moving too fast and we have not been given the tools to keep up. And this numbing, reckless, self medicating behavior does not begin when they are in high school, nor when they are in college, and certainly not when they turn twenty one. It starts in the Middle School.  How do I know? Because I asked. And the girls told me.

I firmly believe as mothers, aunts, sisters, Godmothers, friends, and good women of faith, we are being called to step into the arena WITH our girls and fight hard for them. We need to become an undeniable presence and an unleashed force of protection in their lives that goes beyond signing up to bring snacks to the lacrosse field, or volunteering as class mom. We need to win their hearts back. We need to saturate them in truth. And we need to do it before it’s too late.

BLAZE has intersected my life by nothing other than the almighty hand of God. As a mom who has been present, who did volunteer (up to a point) and who runs a home where church is non-negotiable, I have been struggling to see how I allowed one of my precious own to fall through the cracks. I have been beating myself up for not keeping my baby safe. And I have been searching for ways to ensure I am not blindsided by what is really going on with our youth ever again. What a blessing that the BLAZE program has done the bulk of the work for me. From the Middle School Girl’s Curriculum Guide, to the Between You and Me Mother – Daughter Conversations devotional (my favorite!) to the 6-lesson Bible study to the Blaze Kit take-away gifts that reinforce each lesson from the Blaze Curriculum  (the old catechist in me is crazy about this), BLAZE just might be the most important study in the Walking With Purpose library. I believe this. And I believe in this. And I pray you do, too.

So, where do we start? We start right now, by listening to Lisa, in her own powerful words, describe not only the importance of BLAZE, but of our crucial role in our daughter’s lives. And we pass it on. We send the link to a friend, we share the videos with our girlfriends, we spread this truth like a blazing wildfire. And we purchase BLAZE. Not because I am asking you to, but because I believe God is calling us to. BLAZE is a life vest and oxygen mask – and we would be crazy not to reach for it. Sisters, these are the tools we need to save our girl’s lives. Purchase BLAZE materials for your daughter, buy it for a friend’s daughter, give it as a thank you to your Director of Religious Education, wrap it as a birthday gift. Just get BLAZE into someone’s hands now.

My prayer is that with the help of BLAZE, God will make up for whatever I lack as a mother and fail to notice, and speak directly to my daughter’s heart. I pray that one day soon, all of our girls will not only recognize but truly believe that they are not nothing but rather something; something so much greater than they can even comprehend. They are God’s masterpiece, perfect in every way, and they need not ever kill themselves over trying to fit in, because the truth is, with God, they already do.

It’s time we bring our girls hearts back home where they belong.

Won’t you please join me?

Your Sister in Christ,

Laura

*When you purchase your BLAZE study, would you please send us an email to community@walkingwithpurpose.com and provide us with the first name of the precious girl receiving this gift? We would love to pray for her in our daily intentions!!!