The 10,000 Hour Rule and 9 Ways to Not Screw Up Your Middle Schooler

There are very few things I claim to be an expert on. Several years ago, Thor started a podcast and was pushing me to start my own. The conversation went like this:

Me: “What would I even do a podcast on??”

Thor: “It’s like whatever you’re an amateur expert in. What do you consider yourself an expert on?”

Me: (long, thoughtful pause) “The Young and the Restless.”

And so my friend, Amanda, and I began a podcast dedicated to Y&R (mostly as a joke) and here we are five (?) years later, with over 90,000 downloads. Still blows our minds! 

But seriously, what else would I consider myself an expert on? I was ruminating on this thought the other day, and I thought, “Well, I spend all day with middle schoolers…” and I did the math. Have you heard of the 10,000 hour rule? Basically the idea is that you can have talent in something, but you must truly invest your time to be an expert…thus 10,000 hours is the baseline for expertise. (I can’t say I’ve watched 10,000 hours of Y&R, but I can tell you I literally haven’t missed an episode since the mid 90s).

I started doing the math on what I might have contributed 10,000 hours to in my life. My problem is that I crave change and variety, and I’m not addictive or obsessive about most things (except cheese). What were my results? I’ve spent over 11,000 hours teaching middle schoolers (grades 6-8). That’s right, I’m an expert on the worst years of most peoples’ lives.

So I’m going to digress from my “list” for a moment.

All of us spent a few years being an adolescent, and some parents suffer through having an adolescent, but day-in and day-out I am exposed to the mercurial emotions and pungent body odor of adolescents. The funny thing is, I’ve discovered that most kids who struggle  (academically, socially, hygienically…) in middle school are struggling for one specific reason: their parents.

That’s right: you are screwing up your kid. You are committing their social suicide. All day my Facebook feed is inundated with new moms posting pictures of their messy, drooling newborns and asking questions about their toddler’s body functions. But you don’t see people posting pictures of their teen’s terrible acne or disaster of a locker or bad grade on a terribly easy assignment. What’s the deal?

I’m not a mom. In fact, I never intend to be a mom. But according the 10,000 hour rule, I am an expert on the ages 10 – 14. And after a weekend of posting grades for the term and replying to anxiety-ridden parent emails, I’m going to tell you how to make your kid successful in middle school. 

Top 9 Ways to Not Screw Up Your Middle Schooler

1. Make them pack their own lunch. Not only is it a good skill for them to learn how to plan and organize their own meals, they also suffer legitimate and immediate consequences for not planning ahead of time. This does not mean give them lunch money. This means they should help pick out the things they need at the grocery store and then make grown-up choices about their eating habits. (If packing their lunch is your special moment and you just can’t give it up, then do it only on Fridays or something.)

2. Don’t email their teacher about an assignment they didn’t turn in. This is so lame! By 6th grade, kids need to take responsibility! What are you teaching them when you act like their assistant?! Nothing good, I’ll tell you that. 

3. Let them pick out their own clothes, but facilitate some guidance. We are old and kids pretty much all look the same to us. But to each other, they are all very different, and clothing is the basis for figuring out their identity. If you are picking out your middle schooler’s outfit, then you need to cut the cord. That being said, if your kid is going to school with a pot leaf crop top, you need to reign that cord in. See the balance? Kids are constantly reevaluating the social tiers and while I’m not saying that you should buy their way into popularity, I am saying you should buy their way out of being a complete outcast. 

4. Buy them school supplies every month. Nothing sucks more than seeing a kid roll into class with his iPhone and brand new Nikes but not have a freaking pencil. Parents always go out and buy tons of supplies in September, and by December there’s nothing left. I watch kids suffer academically everyday because they are more concerned with trying to whittle an inch long piece of eraser into something they can use, than actively listening to the lesson. 

5. Make them play outside without rules. Sadly, I have kids who frequently don’t have the skills to just “play.” Either they have been plugged in so much of their life that they don’t know how to have fun without a gadget, or they’ve spent so much time in structured activities (soccer, basketball, camp) that they don’t know how to navigate social situations. This leads to getting left out, or fighting. 

6. Make them play on the computer. Did you know that computer coding is officially a required course in the U.K. starting next fall? If your kid doesn’t know how to really navigate their way through technology (and I mean do stuff you have no clue how to do), they are going to fall behind the curve for future job opportunities. Not only that, this is what kids talk endlessly about at school. They love to talk about and share the cool things they find online (and it’s way more innocent than what you are picturing).

7. Do not pull your kid out of school for a hair appointment.  Or a nail appointment. Or shopping of any kind. This happens all the time! This tells your kid that their appearance is more important than their academics. And they also miss whatever they should be learning. This one is shameful.

8. Don’t do their homework. Yes, people do this. It’s pretty absurd. Do I even have to explain? 

9. Make them shower! And wear deodorant! Kids are cruel, and if your boy or girl smells (and smellllll they do), they will get picked on. Often, the kid that smells bad doesn’t even notice, but the rest of the world does. Do us all a favor and force them to shower. A lesson on how to clean their face properly would also be good. And making sure they brush their teeth. Do that, too.


I know some other teachers will read this, so feel free to add your recommendations, as well! 

5 thoughts on “The 10,000 Hour Rule and 9 Ways to Not Screw Up Your Middle Schooler

    • I would love to know how kids in Europe might differ than USA. For some reason, I picture them far more mature and independent. Did I just make that up in my imagination?

      • Kids can be more mature, but all of the things you described are equally prevalent here. Each school differs in its culture as far as parent interference. My last school had mom’s putting lunches in kids lockers and waving at them through the windows. My current school seems to have parents that encourage more direct communication between student and teacher.

  1. Teach your kid to roll with the punches (figuratively). They won’t believe you, but teachers are real people with real lives outside of the classroom (gasp!) and sometimes they are not at their best. Maybe what a student does warrants a stern smack down, maybe it doesn’t. Don’t get involved. Tell your kid to see how tomorrow goes and go from there.

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