It’s hardly a news flash that middle school is no cakewalk. Those 11-, 12-, and 13-year-old bodies and brains are radically transforming into remarkable new creatures: teenagers. Now take all of that internal turmoil and add a worldwide pandemic the likes of which none of us have ever seen, and you may have a child in lockdown who often finds themself melting down. This is when an extra safety belt is needed to keep your child from spinning out of control as they deal with their bizarre current reality and an uncertain future.

What will next year look like?

Since entering middle school, your 6th grader or 7th grader may have been fantasizing about ascending the middle school ladder to a loftier perch. But where’s the glory of moving up a grade if you’re sitting at home alone, with all of your friends (and frenemies) boxed in on a small screen? There’s no moving on up ceremonies to make public your newfound stature, no real-life orientations to meet all your new teachers, no touring your new home room, just more (and more) Zoom classes.

Your 6th grader may be mourning this significant (for them) rite of passage that places them squarely in the safer middle ground of 7th grade, no longer having to figure out how to move from class to class, use a locker, or navigate lunchtime etiquette.

Your 7th grader has losses of their own. Gone are middle school spring dances where 7th grade crushes may come to the forefront. They’re denied end-of-season games and shows that show off their status as a burgeoning athlete, musician, or performer after years of hard-earned practice. For the middle schooler, these in- and out-of-school activities endow them with a sense of newfound identity as they shed their young childhood selves. Now they are stuck in a sort of limbo, without these newly formed selves to ground them.

How to help your 6th grader or 7th grader cope

Start by acknowledging how hard this might be for them to be removed from the vibrant, if often challenging, social world inside and outside of school, says psychologist John Duffy, author of Parenting the New Teen in the Age of Anxiety. “The most important thing you can do is to talk with them honestly about any pain or loss they are going through.”

You’ve got to have friends!

The biggest loss, says Duffy, are their daily interactions with friends. “One kid told me that the timing feels cruel. ‘This is the time of year we finally get to be out with friends. The best I can do is look out of the window.’” Kids this age are becoming more independent, and they need, and want, to be with their peers. Parents (as much as your child loves you) are hardly a replacement for a bestie. And BFFs aside, they are also missing out on close alliances formed in after-school classes, clubs, and teams. “My fear for these kids is missing out on socialization, especially middle schoolers. It’s an awfully long time for them to be off of that cadence and rhythm of the school day. They may be developmentally — socially and emotionally — collectively behind,” says Duffy.

How to help your 6th grader or 7th grader cope

Support your 6th grader or 7th grader in keeping connected to their friends. To that end, stress less — a lot less — about screen time. While Duffy swears he would never have recommended four or five hours of screen time in the past, “Right now, I believe that’s okay. They need time to connect with friends, which also helps them disconnect from trauma. Screen time can be a little bit regulating.” Not to mention, adds Duffy, giving parents a little bit of a break.

Realizing this isn’t a snow day

It’s not all bad news for your 6th grader or 7th grader. Duffy says that compared to older middle schoolers and younger high schoolers, kids this age tend to be more adaptable to change, and more happily open to spending time with family. They may even have welcomed the first few weeks of a very long snow day.

As more time passes in quarantine, Duffy says he’s seeing an increasing number of kids this age get more agitated and even slide into depression and anxiety. If your own child’s spirits are basically good, no need to worry. But it’s worth recognizing that 6th and 7th graders are likely to experience a deep sense of loss for missing out their final months of school, and they’re worried about what their summer and even the next year of school will look like.

How to help your 6th grader or 7th grader cope

Get up and get out! Sure, they can have screen time, but “it’s important for young bodies to move,” says Duffy. Be it shooting hoops with a sibling or taking a family bike ride or walk, some sort of activity will help regulate the irregular moods of a hormone-addled middle schooler. “Kids this age tend to catastrophize,” adds Duffy. “If they are always in their rooms, they will never get out of this mindset. When they get outdoors, they gain perspective that this isn’t going to last forever.”

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Updated: May 12, 2020