Since the beginning of time, we have consistently seen movies, TV shows, and books all with the same plot of how horrible middle school is. The 6th best-selling book series of all time Diary Of A Wimpy Kid is all about the “terrible” middle school experiences of tween Greg Heffley. And one of the most popular and notable high school movies of this generation, High School Musical depicts high school as a musical-filled fun-time.
But why is this? Why is high school depicted as fun and the best time of your life while everybody hates middle school? Well to answer this question I think it’s important to note how books, movies, and TV have influenced this way of thinking.
Popular books series such as Dork Diaries, Diary of a Wimpy Kid (which have sold millions of copies worldwide) are both good and bad reasons as to why middle school is considered to be the absolute worst. Yes, both featured the bad, the awkward, and the ugly about middle school. But something to keep in mind is that both main characters are whiny, ungrateful pessimists who only see the bad and fail to see the good things they have in their lives. Which can lead to young readers (such as myself) when I read these books in elementary school to feel sympathetic towards them and get the impression that middle school must be so horrible if these poor characters are constantly complaining. When in reality the characters are just terrible people.
Psychologically the reason why a middle school might be seen as terrible is because of the mental effect that it can have. It’s a weird time because you want to be an adult and act like one, but you’re still a child. Also, this new transition into middle school is when “cliques” start to form which can lead to social pressure to fit in. Additionally, middle school is the peak year for puberty which is where most of the awkwardness comes in which can lead to insecurities and self-conscious feelings.
When it comes to high school there seems to be a mixed opinion as to whether it was the best or the worst. According to Gallup who surveyed 1,000 U.S adults only 7% of people surveyed said that high school was the best time of their lives while 54% said that it was a great time, 35% percent said that it was an ok time and only 4% said it was the worst time of their lives.
It seems to be a mixed crowd, yet it seems that movies (and Hollywood) like to push this unrealistic idea of High School. One of the most popular and beloved Disney Channel movies, High School Musical, has been reproached by the internet the last few years for its unrealistic standards. While other popular high school movies such as Mean Girls, Grease, Clueless, and even movies where the high school is merely a setting or background for a scene, have also had adults giving their opinion on whether they think it’s an accurate depiction of the high school experience.
However, one thing that these movies have in common is that they show tiny glimpses of what high school is really like. For the most part, they show the good, fun, and “movie-worthy” aspects of it, such as dating, after-school activities, and going out with friends. Another thing these popular high schools movies have in common is that they all tend to feature a flashback scene of one of the characters in middle school and these flashbacks are never positive. They all feature the character looking awkward, frazzled, unattractive, and then flashback to the present day and show that the character(who’s in high school) doesn’t look like that anymore. This can all lead to the naive middle school tween looking forward to high school because these movies make them think that high school is going to magically make their problems disappear.
In reality, some of the reasons why high school is considered the best is the fact that you are past the awkward stage of middle school and that there is slightly more freedom in high school and you are closer to becoming an adult. You start to drive, get your first job, and potentially even start dating. It’s all so exciting and new and it can lead high schoolers to finally get that adult feeling they’ve been craving since middle school. Psychologically the reason why most adults tend to confuse the memories or nostalgia of high school with it being the best time of your life is because of something called “the reminiscence bump” according to memory researchers shows that our strongest memories from life experiences occur during the age of 10-30. This is due to “the changes in the brain’s sensitivity to certain types of information during adolescence”(TheConversation).
In reality, while middle school can be awkward I wouldn’t go as far as saying that they are the worst years of your life. Yes, it’s awkward and everybody is trying to figure out who they are. Everyone is growing mentally at different paces, some want to be and act like adults, some act like five-year-olds and some are in the middle where they just act their age. What society and the media fail to realize is that middle school is your last opportunity to be a kid. Once you get to high school there is so much pressure, maybe from yourself or parents or peers to get the best grades, start thinking about college, a job, etc, which ultimately drains any last chance to just be a kid with no responsibilities. In my opinion, although middle school is awkward, I think that more kids should enjoy it and the media needs to stop criticizing it since this is their last opportunity to be a kid and not have to worry about college, one’s GPA, money, and all that tedious adult stuff that high schoolers do.