The Dark Side of Middle School Boy Culture

What is “middle school boy culture?” It’s the unspoken norms and rules that govern what is cool, popular, and acceptable for 11- to 14-year-old boys. After 7 years of being in middle school ministry I have developed a pretty good understanding of this particular culture.

Photo courtesy of Dollar Photo Club/rimmdream

This culture values athleticism, self-confidence, independence, and extraversion, among other things. When you combine those elements it means middle school boy culture highlights boys who are outspoken, bold, talkative, funny, spazzy, and generally silly. There is nothing inherently wrong with a boy acting that way, but the problem is not all middle school boys are like that.

I have recently had multiple tough conversations with middle school boys who are quiet, thoughtful, contemplative, kind-hearted, emotional, and introverted. They are all exceptional young men, but middle school is difficult for them. They struggle to find and make friends and they often get overlooked by their peers. They are facing the dark side of middle school boy culture.

It is hard to see such wonderful young men struggling like this, especially because their personalities and gifts are just as valuable as the outspoken boys. Someday they’ll be able to leverage those gifts to make a significant impact on the world, but it’s tough to convince a 12-year-old to be so forward-thinking when you’re in 7th grade and feel lonely and don’t get invited to social events.

This is a soft spot for me because I was one of the more thoughtful, contemplative kids who often was frustrated when peers who had poor character or a bad work ethic were given more respect and recognition simply because they were athletic, obnoxious, or both.

I don’t think middle school boy culture is bad, but it would be better if it accepted a broader range of personalities and gifts. At this point I’m not sure what adults can and should do to change it.

What we definitely can do is encourage, affirm, and value the boys who don’t fit the mold of what’s cool and acceptable. They won’t get as much respect from their peers as they deserve, at least not while they’re in middle school. Hopefully the extroverted boys can learn to respect and appreciate the contributions of their introverted peers. The quieter kids have a lot to offer to us now and in the future.