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The Middle School Survival Guide for Tomboys

by Renée Koma

There are no if’s, and’s, or but’s about it: middle school is hard. You may have more classes in a day than you did in elementary school. You may be in an entirely different building. You might also be sharing that school building with an entirely new horde of people. 

Talk about stressful. 

You’re also hyper-aware of the changing status of “cool”. You’re learning who and what is on the popular list – and where you might rank on that list.

As a tomboy, though, you’re probably finding that your puzzle piece fits a little differently into this whole picture. 

You’re not feeling particularly motivated to be “girly”or “pretty”, like most of the other girls, and that can cause you to stand out. 

And you know what? That’s totally cool. It just means that middle school might look slightly different for you than it might for someone else. 

So where do you fit? How do you deal? How do you talk to mom? And that boy you might like – how do you talk to him? How should you react when your fellow students are mean to you? 

Have no fear. Middle school is tough, but it doesn’t have to be impossible. Here’s your guide to surviving and thriving. 

* Disclaimer: I am not a psychologist or any type of medical professional. None of the following is medical advice. 

Making Friends

In middle school, you may get the chance to take some new classes, sports, and clubs that you didn’t get to explore before. You don’t have to be into cheerleading to find your squad of people (and if you are, power to you). 

Some middle schools have wood shops and robotics clubs. Where I went to school, there was an awesome field for me to launch my model rockets in, and ever since, I’ve found friends that like to launch rockets, too. 

If you go to a middle school that consolidates all the elementary schools in the district, then there’s a whole new pool of people to make friends with. Take advantage of it! 

You’re jostling them in the hallways on the way to classes, so you might as well be friendly with some of them. That doesn’t mean that you have to be the definition of an extrovert, but go to club meetings every once in a while.

Take Spanish or wood shop or chorus because you like it, and you might meet some folks that like it too. 

In middle school, people often have already formed tight social groups, and you might feel daunted at the thought of breaking into one of these social groups. 

Don’t think of it like that! Deep, long-lasting friendships come from months of connection, so don’t feel as though you need to strong-arm your way into the “cool” crowd. Trust me, you’ll find your people. 


If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of bullying (or know someone who has), then you know how difficult it can be to stand up to it. 

It can range in form from cyberbullying to verbal and physical violence. And all of them are unacceptable. 

Middle schools can be hotspots for bullying. If you ever find yourself on the receiving end of it- especially repeated bullying – don’t let it go. 

Telling an adult that you trust is the best way to deal with bullying. This can be your school counselor, a teacher you like, the school librarian, a parent, or anyone else you can think of. A trusted adult can help you navigate the situation. 

These adults usually remember being middle school students themselves. They know that you might experience retaliation if you tell on your bullies, and they will act accordingly. 

Getting an adult involved does not make you a snitch or a tattletale. It makes you smart and mature. 

Silence or passive acceptance encourages bullies. No one deserves to be bullied, so don’t remain silent. It’s important for your own mental health, as well as for other potential victims of that bully in the future. 

If you are a bystander to bullying, there are a lot of things you can do to help besides let bullying occur. Stopbullying.gov and the Stop Bullying Now Foundation have some awesome recommendations. Go check it out. 

If you are bullied because you aren’t “girly” enough, know that your self worth isn’t hinged on what you wear, like, dislike, or who you hang out with. If you are feeling sad or anxious, tell someone. 

Puberty and Gender Sterotypes

You’ve no doubt heard the “P” word by now. Maybe you’re tired of hearing it. Maybe it scares you, and maybe it doesn’t. 

Either way, everyone experiences it, and it typically starts during middle school. 

It gets clear pretty fast that as peoples’ bodies begin to change, there’s an emphasis on girls being “pretty”, and guys being “tough”. That may not be helpful to you, because you might not be interested in either of those things. 

So where do you fit? 

Anywhere you want. Just because your body is changing doesn’t mean you have to change your personality – even if other students give you a hard time about it. If you don’t feel like there’s a space in that picture for you, then make your own. 

The awesome thing about you is that you aren’t everyone else. If you’re not into wearing leggings and being on Instagram, then you don’t have to be. If you are, that’s cool, too. 

Do you want to be on the football team? Crush it, dude. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t. Do you want to join theater, orchestra, or sewing club? Do you write poetry? Go for it with everything you’ve got. 

Just because others are settling into gender stereotypes doesn’t mean you have to. “Girly” stuff is perfectly fine. So is “boy” stuff. You don’t have to choose no matter what anyone else says. 


They make great friends. They’ll laugh at your fart jokes. They’ll play basketball with you at the park after school. 

They can also be downright stupid. They set stuff on fire. They punch each other. They dare each other to eat that weird looking bug. 

And maybe you’re finding that you’re liking one of these friends a little more these days than you did before.

Uh oh. What do you do? Do you tell him about it? Should you even go down that rabbit hole? The choice, my friend, is up to you, but I encourage you to tread lightly. 

When I was 13, a book found its way into my room called A Smart Girl’s Guide to Boys: Surviving crushes, staying true to yourself & other stuff by Nancy Holyoke.

To this day, it’s still the best relationship advice I’ve ever read. The book has a permanent place in my room, and I still crack it open from time to time. It may be a little outdated now but check it out from the library. 

Here’s the most important advice I can give you: stay true to yourself, and the rest will fall into place. If you need to change to fit your friend’s needs or personality, he’s probably not the right one for you. 

You always have the right to say no to something that makes you uncomfortable, and you never deserve to be insulted. If you get into a relationship and find yourself on the receiving end of hateful words or violence, tell someone.

Overall, just be smart. Think with your head, not your heart. You got this. 

Talking To Mom (or Dad)

When I was 13, I desperately wanted to wear boys’ cargo shorts. My best friend wore boys’ basketball shorts all the time, and I was super jealous of the awesome pockets on those things. 

Come to think of it, I still am. But talking my mom into allowing me to buy cargo shorts from the boys’ department wasn’t an immediate win, and my grandmother was mortified.

Eventually, my mom came around (although my grandmother was still suspicious). Maybe you’ve run into a similar problem. 

If your mom is anything like mine, she loves you and cares about you no matter what, but she might not understand your tomboy tendencies. 

The best way to resolve this issue? Sit down and have a good, ol’ fashioned talk. Don’t let it turn into an argument (although this is sometimes easier said than done). 

Your mom or dad will likely just appreciate you seeking them out to talk. 

Tell them why you want what you want and make it clear that you aren’t trying to spite them or be rebellious – you just think that model rockets are way cooler than being a cheerleader, that’s all. 

It’s most likely that they’ll understand, or at least begin to understand. If they don’t, then find someone else to talk to about it. Sometimes, you just need to vent to someone who is willing to listen. 

Whether this is a friend or a teacher or the school counselor is up to you. All of them would be willing to listen – and possibly give you tips on how to better approach mom. 

Final Thoughts

Ask any adult, and many of them will agree middle school and high school age can be some of the most confusing of your life. Everyone goes through it, and despite how it may seem, nobody has everything figured out. 

Even the “popular” kids feel insecure about something. After all, being 12, 13, and 14 is no walk in the park. Give yourself some credit. You’re awesome. Really. 

Middle school goes quickly. Before you know it, you’ll be wondering where the heck eighth grade went, and you’ll be signing up for your first high school classes. 

Whether your tomboy interests stay or not, know that you should never feel the need to change for others. If you do change, do it for you. Middle school is hard. Be your own best friend, and you’ll never be lonely. 

After all, I never grew out of being a tomboy. I haven’t regretted it yet. 

So, get out there. Make some friends, talk to mom, and be a version of yourself that you would want to be friends with. Rock your middle school years – or at the very least, survive them. 

And hey. Let me know how it goes.

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