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How to Survive Middle School

SPARK is super excited to be partnering with the NYC Mayor’s Office on the NYC Girls Project, a new campaign dedicated to boosting the self-esteem of NYC girls between the ages of 7 and 12. We remember how hard it was to be pre-teens (“tweens,” if you will), internalizing all these negative messages about our bodies and our abilities and what it means to be a girl, and we’re pumped to be able to help other girls navigate these rocky years and hopefully come out fuller, happier, and ready to show this world who’s boss. With that in mind, the SPARKteam has put together these tips for surviving and flourishing these trying times–and beyond!

  • Spend 5 minutes a day dancing in your room to music. Make some playlists of songs that make you feel happy or songs that you can listen to and scream along with when you’re mad.
  • Treat yourself with kindness. Give yourself two compliments every day that aren’t about what you look like.
  • Find a way you like to be active! Even if you hate gym class and team sports (a lot of us did), there are lots of fun and awesome ways to get your body moving, like riding bikes with your friends or choreographing dance routines to One Direction songs (some of us still do this).
  • Think about what you really want!  A lot of times girls feel like we “need” to do things, like have a boyfriend or wear makeup or dress a certain way, even if that’s not really what we’re into. But you don’t need  to do anything like that if you don’t want to–really! You do you.
  • Replace all the negative messages you get from advertising with positive ones from cool girls on the Internet! We really like Jump! MagNew Moon Girls, and Rookie.
  • Find a constructive hobby you can do by yourself or with close friends. It’s great “me time,” and you get stuff! SPARKteam activist Lili likes to knit (“it’s not even an expensive hobby! wool is so cheap!”) so she has something to do with her hands while she watches TV, and she says it’s very therapeutic–plus, at the end, you’ll get something cool and pretty that you made on your own, which feels pretty amazing.
  • Hang out with people who make you feel good about yourself and don’t hang out with anyone who makes you feel bad. Don’t be mean on the Internet! Don’t be mean in real life either. It’s corny, but it’s true: you should treat people the way you want to be treated. People will always remember if you were nice to them in middle school (and you’ll always remember the people who were nice to you).
  • Similarly, don’t say stuff to yourself  that you wouldn’t say to a friend. Like, if you do badly in a test, don’t tell yourself you’re useless or awful–tell yourself you tried your best and that’s all you can do (and then eat some chocolate).
  • Disconnecting from gossip will make you so, so much happier, even if it’s hard at first.
  • Find a role model! Make friends with girl or two a few years older than you–a sister, a neighbor, a family member, or someone else–who you like and who can help you figure it all out.
  • Ask your friends and family to write you a list or letter of things they like about you. Make your own list of things you like about yourself. Keep them in a safe place, then read them whenever you’re feeling down.
  • Make a space for you to keep things that inspire you–a box, a blog, a bulletin board, anything!
  • Find people you like and who like you. Don’t spend your precious energy and time on people who treat you like “backup friends”–you deserve way better than that.
  • Don’t let social media or media in general fool you. Even if your classmates’ Instagrams and Facebooks make it look like they’re living perfect lives, they’re not! Everyone is struggling on some level, even if it’s masked by an Instagram filter. You’re not alone in this.
  • Write down things that bother you and see if you can fix them. Sometimes you’ll be able to and sometimes you won’t–but even if you can’t,  there are usually ways to make things a little easier.
  • It’s okay to be weird. Don’t let anyone make you feel like your individuality is something you have to give up in order to “fit in.”
  • Grades aren’t everything. If you’re trying your best and still don’t have straight As, that doesn’t make you less worthwhile or important or good as a person.
  • People say “obsessed” like it’s a bad thing, but it’s perfectly fine to be really, really into stuff. In fact, it’s pretty fun! It’s okay to be super into a book or movie or actor or band if that’s what makes you happy, even if other people think it’s kinda weird.
  • On that note, don’t feel like you have to be really into something just because everyone else is.
  • Make friends who don’t go to your school, because chances are you’ll occasionally need a breath of fresh air from the academic and social stress. Sometimes you need to think and talk about stuff that isn’t school, and it’s easier to do with those that aren’t also caught up in that environment. Plus, these friends can usually offer a different perspective on things.
  • Lemon juice in your hair won’t give you highlights, it will just make your head sticky and attract bees. Ignore all fashion magazines that tell you otherwise.
In addition to the subway ads like the one above, the NYC Girls Project will also feature girls’ fitness classes at NYC parks, programs for after school groups, and a twitter campaign using the hashtag #ImAGirl. Plus, we’ve partnered with the Paley Center to develop two new classes for their education program: one about the history of girls on TV, and one about body image and media. You can find out more about the whole project, plus get more resources, here!
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