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January 17, 2008

Book Review: The Middle School Survival Guide

Filed under: review, books — suzanne henderson @ 8:57 pm

The Middle School Survival Guide: How to Survive from the Day Elementary School Ends until the Second High School Begins

The Middle School Survival Guide, written by Arlene Erlback, seemed like a pretty good resource for my daughter’s first year in middle school. I assume that the target audience is other middle school children, from ages 11 to 14 (6th through 8th grade). The cover is playfully drawn and seems very inviting for youth in that age range.

I picked this book up from a library display and placed it in a public area of the house hoping that Alex would take the initiative to look at it. In the meantime, I flipped through it to get a sense of information presented. At first, I was quite pleased with many of the items — especially those focusing on academic and family life. The author does a good job stating how expectations often increase greatly in school and at home during the middle school years and presents several suggestions for dealing with this expectations. The book also has quotes from other middle schoolers offering advice on each topic as well.

I was also pleased to see the book addressing social concerns such as fitting in, dealing with peer pressure, and romantic relationships. I was happy to see the author pushing the approach that while fitting in is fine, you should also make sure your still being yourself and not what someone else wants you to be. Erlback also talks about consumerism and wearing name brand clothing and offers suggestions to avoid and ways to work with your parents, and their budget, to possibly get some you want.

While I really appreciated the upfront approach to peer relationships and challenges, puberty changes, and serious issues like violence and sexual assault — there were a few places where my views slightly conflicted with her commentary. First, I must comment that I feel that I’m very far from being prudish in any sense of the word, even when it comes to my daughter, and that I’m not naive as to the things kids are doing these days (being pregnant at 14, I know that some kids participate in some adult activities at a very young age). Here are the items that I took issue with:

  • In the Dressing Sexy section, the author comments on the influence of sex in the media and fashion and also that they way you dress can get you to get attention you don’t want. However, it also states “Unless you school has a dress code, you do have the right to dress however you want.” This one sentence really jumped out at me because I don’t believe it to be true, dress code or not. Especially not when it comes to dressing provocatively when you’re only 12. While the author seemed to be pushing a “less sexy is good” approach, this statement along with the youth quote really implied that dressing sexy is what everyone else is doing and you can too (”can” seem too easy for a youth to read can as “should”) . While my daughter has a lot of autonomy, she doesn’t have the “right” to do most thing as she choses, I do get some say in issues such as these.
  • In the Party Scene section, the author seemed to paint the picture that all middle school co-ed parties are big make-out sessions. Erlbach does a good job presenting ways out of the situation if it makes them uncomfortable, but also offers simple instructions on kissing. I don’t mind the instructions as much as the impression I get that this is the “normal” expectation. I guess I prefer it being presented as something that probably doesn’t happen, but here are some ways to deal with it if it does - like rest of the commentary on sexual activity in the book. The chapter goes into a lot more detail on sex, including oral sex, and provides a fairly upfront view that waiting until your older is better. It does a great job of discussing possible social fallout if you do have sexual intimacy with someone else and dealing with sexual rumors that are not true.

Overall, this books does a good job of addressing almost all the physical and social issues that our young children face today. I’d imagine that a more conservative parent would be a little uncomfortable with the very upfront commentary on puberty, sex, sexuality, and media influence. Other than the two items mentioned above, I’ve found little that I didn’t like in the book. Even with my reservations, I would still encourage my child read this book, especially because of the frank discussions on sexual issues (including abuse and assault!) and be willing to discuss any questions she might have. I feel that it offers a great deal in the direct way it discusses these issues and that I can personally address the concerns I have with the book with her.