6th Grade is Mean: Why Middle School Can Be the Hardest

High School can be hard, but it seems that Middle School is often worse in terms of mean girls, bullies and cliques.

6th grade for me:

For three months, I literally had no friends.  My mom had to buy me sticker books and Mad Libs so that I could sit on the bench and act like I was doing something because no one would play with me.  I remember begging the teacher to let me stay in during recess, “I will wash the blackboard,” “I can sweep,” “I will do extra credit homework.”  I do not remember doing anything mean or wrong, all of the kids just decided they did not like me.  Then, one day, it was someone else’s turn and I was back in the group.

6th grade for a girl client:

I had a great client who got back from summer and her core group of 6 girlfriends simply decided they hated her.  They wouldn’t talk to her, wrote mean notes, encouraged other kids to not partner with her during activities.  When I got to her house, she was devastated.  We wrote them all letters and hand delivered them to the other girls saying sorry and that she missed them as friends.  They reluctantly accepted her back.

6th grade for a boy:

A family friend called me recently and told me that her son was being targeted online by the other 6th grade boys.  The other 6th grade boys had pretended to be one of the ‘hot girls’ in the class and flirted with him online, asked him out and then told him it wasn’t real.  They printed the IM conversation and handed it out at school.

Why? Why can kids be so mean? I think that 6th grade is an overlooked year by most parents and parents are taken by surprise when these things happen so early.  So many parents tell me, I thought this would happen in High School, but not now!

It makes some sense that 6th grade would be particularly bad because it is the first year where there is marked outward change.  Up until about 5th grade everyone looks the same.  In 6th grade, girls start to look different, boys start to sound different and the outward lines wreak havoc on the previously peaceful social scene.

I write this post so parents of older kids can realize that if their child struggled socially in 6th grade, it is totally normal.  For parents of younger kids, I want you to prepare mentally for this change.
Stories in the comments if you want?

24 Responses to “6th Grade is Mean: Why Middle School Can Be the Hardest”

  1. Sandie
    September 29, 2008 at 6:47 pm #

    My son is in first grade and he’s already dealing with kids being mean. Granted, mean for this age is very different than mean for sixth graders.

    I’m curious what you (and other readers) tell kids to do when dealing with this type of thing.

  2. Vanessa
    September 30, 2008 at 8:10 am #

    I always tell parents to keep the conversation going with their kids. Whenever anything is bothering them they should tell you so you can explain that they should not take it personally and if it is inappropriate you can immediately contact the other child’s parents.

    Also I really encourage parent to get their kids in lots of different activities where they can make other friends. When a child knows kids from different places it does not feel so heart breaking when they get in a fight with one.


  3. Michelle
    September 30, 2008 at 11:37 am #

    I remember once in 6th grade I suddenly became the target of the “mean girls.” Apparently, I once did my hair in the same style as another girl (horror of horrors!), and so they decided I was worth making fun of. My mom convinced me to call the mean girl leader to ask why she was mad at me. Lesson learned: when you get one mean girl alone, she doesn’t usually have the guts to continue the bullying. She denied she was mad, and the next day everything was back to normal. Needless to say, we aren’t lifelong friends, but it sure made 6th grade more pleasant after that.

    Maybe we should just encourage kids to be semi-confrontational. When you keep quiet and look wounded, you’re more likely to be targeted. Of course, this doesn’t work for everyone, but it did for me.

  4. Vanessa
    September 30, 2008 at 11:39 am #


    Really good point. I think many kids think they need to sit and suffer alone–and quietly. I am so glad you posted this and I want to highlight that going to talk directly to the bully (without the posse around) is really helpful and important.



  5. Ginny
    October 4, 2008 at 9:30 pm #

    My daughter is in 6th grade & girls are really cruel at this age. Luckily my daughter has a lot of friends, so when one group doesn’t talk to her for a couple days, she talks to someone else. The things that they say & do are just awful though, I have a hard time not saying stuff.

    She seems to handle it well though & will tell me they are just being girls (once the fight is over of course) The majority of the time, she has no idea why someone won’t talk to her. Crazy.

  6. Jennifer
    November 3, 2008 at 6:32 pm #

    My 6th grade daughter is going through this same thing. She has always been homeschooled and this is her first year in Public School. She has always been involved in lots of activities, so she has always had lots of friends. She transitioned very well, but of course the “drama” did not take long to surface. She said there are a few girls, the “popular” ones who talk to her one day and then not the next… Then in her little circle of friends, it is like some are mean and hormonal one day and sweet the next. It is awful. We are thinking of taking her out and continuing with homeschooling. All of her homeschool friends are so much sweeter and she misses them. She does not have much time to socialize with them now that her days are filled with school, then homework, then off to bed….. sigh…. not to mention she is bored to tears in class because she is way ahead of everyone else.

    Maybe we will try Public School again in High School??

  7. Vanessa
    November 4, 2008 at 6:11 pm #

    Hi Jennifer

    Ugh that is so rough. Part of me wants to say that you should keep her in school because she will need to learn the social skills, but the other part of me says bring her back when kids arent so mean. The truth is, there are always going to be mean kids. She should probably stick with it until at least the end of the year and at least ride out some of the swings.

    Tell her it does get better, and even the ‘mean girls’ have had their low moments


  8. Kim
    February 6, 2009 at 11:56 pm #

    Oh man…my daughter is going through the exact same thing…she was literally kicked right out of the group at the beginning of this year (5th grade). She made friends with one little girl, (thank goodness) but the group constantly asks the friend if she would like to play with them at recess. When my daughter was sick, this friend played with the group ( of course, she would have been alone if she didn’t) and when my daughter came back to school, the group told the friend that she could play with them, but ONLY her, not my daughter. I’m telling you, these kids are totally manipulative, it’s disturbing. I keep telling myself this stuff happens at this age, and I went to the teacher, but she gave me some fluff about it just being the age. Finally the other day I guess some other parent complained and one of these girls was taken into the principals office. Nothing has changed, though. These kids don’t care, nothing seem to get through. I think it’s a social survival thing. Note: My daughter came home today and said one of the girls was just kicked out of the group and was crying today. It seems the group is turning on each other. I told my daughter to just stick with her one friend for now and stop trying to play with this group. It’s hard though…I mean, these kids are only 10 or 11 years old…!

  9. Gayle
    March 2, 2009 at 9:41 am #

    I am a substitute teacher. I see kids K-12 and how they treat one another. It is appalling. One will start being mean to a victim and others will laugh, then the laughers will start in on the victim. I am constantly telling the kids to be kind, be nice, don’t talk that way. The backlash for me is that three of my children are in these grades and get some heck later on in the day if I try (albeit with kindness) to stop some of the meaness in a class. So the meaness just goes around and around.

  10. Josh
    March 31, 2009 at 3:34 pm #

    This topic means alot to me. I’ve always been that fat kid so I’ve been being made fun of ever since i moved at the end of second grade. It was hard casue i had little friends and the ones I had didnt always talk to me. By fifth grade i had friends( or so I thought). Then came middle school. Everyone changed the preps got prepier and i wasnt good enough for them. No one wanted to be my friend it was a really hard year for me. But for parents that have kids I would tell them to watch for the signs and to talk to your kids because by time I was in eighth grade and i made friends I learned that some of my friends were cutting them selves. Luckly they stopped before they really hurt them selves.But it gets alot better in High School becasue people become more excepting and you find a group of people your like and they make great friends. But a disturbing fact is its happening earlier and earlier. My 8 years old brother is already being harrased by bullys.

  11. Vanessa Van Petten
    April 2, 2009 at 4:27 pm #

    Hi Josh

    I am so sorry to hear that that was such a hard year for you. I think it was rough for many people and no one ever shares it. But, still think it will get better as you said. As awful it is what you went through it is good now you can hopefully help your younger brother understand what is going on and be able to deal with it safely and not feel so alone.


  12. Stevie
    June 10, 2009 at 4:12 pm #

    I was lucky, i have this group of 5 friends who, we’ve been together since grade 2 and are still just as close now that were in grade 9 as we always have been. But i i had a friend in grade 6, her name’s tasha. so she was really close with these two girls, they were always together, untill the other two girls disided they hated tasha. They would spread rumour about her and tell people to not hang out with her. One day i was standing with the other two girls and they started saying something about her and i completely flipped out because i knew it was a lie, i cuased a pretty big scene and most people saw that they were trying to start something and then every one like tasha again and she became friends with the other two girls agin untill they did the same thing this year… she finally realized they were not good friends

  13. Joanne70
    July 2, 2009 at 8:06 pm #

    Middle school sucks. Kids are mean. Boy, am I even more happy about my decision to not have children.

  14. Patty
    July 9, 2009 at 10:30 pm #

    My oldest daughter will be going to college this Fall and I have a 12 year old going into 7th grade. My older daughter was a nice, sweet and pretty kid in middle school without a nasty bone in her body and boy did she pay for it. She thought she had a great group of friends only to find one random day that she was kicked out of her lunch table. She always had other friends but this table of so called” cool “girls were nasty. It turns out that these popular kids have turned into sex crazed, coke snorting, alcohol swilling losers who were lucky that any college would take them. My daughter perservered, found her group in High School (much more accepting kids than in Middle School) , was the star of all the plays and is attending a prestigous college this Fall. My 12 year old is athletic, funny and pretty and can hold her own. She has come up against a few mean girls (one in particular) and was able to handle them by confronting them and telling them why she didn’t like what they were doing. The one girl couldn’t believe that someone would stand up to her and always texts my daughter to tell her she’s sorry if she did something wrong. My daughter is never mean when she talks to this girl (or others like her) and it seems to have worked for her. She has handled 6th grade quite well and I hope with her attitude she will continue to thrive. Of course, as a parent, I want to jump in and it’s hard not to, but my oldest told me not too long ago that she was so glad that I didn’t fight her battles because it made her stronger and better able to cope with others. Hope this helps others and sorry I rambled on so!!

  15. adam
    August 21, 2009 at 3:43 pm #

    comments on all summarys
    stevie u r a good friend!!vennesa u 2 you r nic for giving people advise and there good advise!!!!so sorry about ur year Josh its not bad to hang out with the fat kids or people weird it just madders wat is inside so good for u!!!stand up 4 wat u blieve in!!!Gayle it isnt good to be mean but i live in it cause my class is not good eather but the people that start the trubble left!!!finnally!!KIM i know how it feels and it doesnt feel good ive been kicked out of a groups 2 so sorry about it!!!!Jenifer u should of sharted her in a privite school and it is a lot better trust me im in a privite school!!Good luck all!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  16. carisa
    September 13, 2009 at 10:20 am #

    I also homeschooled my son and sent him to school this year in 7th grade. A couple of the boys are terrible with lots of verbal bullying and the whole group of about 8 boys is ostracizing him completely. The principal has been great and is actively intervening, but I am just sickened by these children. Homeschool children do not behave this way. We come from MT where we were in a group with about 30 really great kids. “Socialization” in public schools is totally negative. They’re matching every stereotype we have about them. Unfortunately our new home is so rural there are few other homeschoolers around here, so it’s lonely by himself or lonely with others. Sad. Something really wrong with our culture to create this. It’s not inherent in the age. Homeschool groups don’t do it.

  17. jada
    September 29, 2009 at 6:34 pm #

    the 6 grade is really hard well math is it is like i can get the whole world to hlep me with my math and i still will not get is i hate math i want to repeat the grade i dont care no more i just want to quite school already i hate school i wish i could give up but my mom would spank me if i quite school

  18. CGF
    February 18, 2011 at 5:55 pm #

    6th grade is just so difficult. i don’t get it. i mean this grl ive been friends with since the 4th grade is suddenly my worst enemy. i barely have any friends, while people openly discuss their plans for the weekend about some epic sleepovr or whatevr while all i am going to do is read. (not that there is anything wrong with that.) it crushes me when they don’t invite u ya know? it just kind of kills a good mood knowing other ppl r gonna have tons of fun while u aren’t.

  19. Sam
    May 1, 2011 at 8:03 am #

    I’m in 7th grade going into 8th. And 6th grade at my school wasn’t that bad for me. I was part of the ‘popular clique’ I wasn’t mean to anyone. Although most of my friends were. It was horrible to watch the things my friends said and did to the other students. I tried getting them to stop but they wouldn’t they just made up excuses for why they were bullying them. I didn’t want to get excluded from the group, or get bullied myself. So I sort of just dropped the matter. At my school there was one girl who was like the queen bee of my grade. Everyone followed her. She was actually one of the nicest in that group. This year it’s the same group of kids “ruling the school” but I learned not to get involved with all of them. I still say hi to them in the hallways and talk to them but I have other friends now too who are concidered “nerdy” or “losers” that’s okay. Maybe if more kids would stop trying to be something they’re not, all the crude behavior at school would stop. Most of the girls at my school try to be “whores” they dress in shirts that show half their backs and “daisy dukes” to school. I used to do it. In 7th and 8th grade most kids will realize that it’s not “cool” to be a follower but to just be yourself. 6th grade everyone just wants to fit in. No worries. It will change. I promise

  20. Karltontom
    September 16, 2011 at 9:53 am #

    I was tormented going from the 5th to 6th grade. I was spat on called names and blamed for everything and the worst part is that the teacher believed the class and spanked my hands with a ruler at every incident. I did not speak out I was an outgoing boy all throughout elementary school happy all the time so what happened you asked , i’ll explain a little more before revealing the cause. The kids continued to torment me even after they found out my mother was in bed and dying from renal failure, I was sad and unable to verbally. Describe what was happening to me. Nothing changed kids thought my mother dying was some kind of hex like a disease I had, the entire experience really hit me hard and I am haunted by this even now at 40yrsevery old.

  21. Tracy
    May 29, 2012 at 2:36 am #

    Kids seem like sociopaths at this age. My 6th grade niece threw my much smaller nephew on the ground and kicked him in the face repeatedly until we intervened. When asked why she did it, she said, “He was in my way,” and shrugged her shoulders. 
    I remember people around me suddenly getting moody and irrational in the 5th and 6th grades. Fortunately, a health teacher explained puberty and explained that kids act like this at that age.
    Also, being the youngest of a large family helped. I had older brothers to protect me from bullies, and my parents had this stage down by the time I reached 6th grade.
    It helps if you put your child in a sport. I played football and basketball, so on the first day of school I already knew 20 other boys. We weren’t all best friends, but when the other kids saw that I knew a lot of people, that made it easy.

  22. Jeff
    December 31, 2012 at 2:49 am #

    A lot of adults think that things like bullying and other similar situations will just “blow over” and usually if you aren’t in 1st or 2nd grade, they won’t and something has to be done, especially if the child comes home from school every day miserable.

  23. meg
    January 3, 2013 at 9:56 am #

    Montessori kids don’t do it either. My son transferred to traditional school for 7th grade. It was horrible.

  24. Anita
    March 4, 2015 at 4:25 pm #

    I’m a grade seven student and I still loathe school. Elementary school is designed for 5 year olds all the way up to seventh grade over here in Canada. Particularly, girls pass notes to each other during class and they’re always getting mad at each other and then they rip the notes up and throw them in the recycling bin, which is easy because it’s right next to one of the girls and she can throw her and other people’s notes into the bin without the teacher lecturing her about getting up in the middle of her teaching.
    There would be all sorts of secrets, too, and people would cry. It’s usually MORE than one girl, but I’ve seen two or more cry at the same time over reasons that I cannot interpret why they would be melancholy over.
    They actually think they are ‘dating’. There’s an obnoxious girl named Jessica who dates this boy named Justin. They’re both in the other seventh grade class. I don’t get what makes these immature people think they’re ‘dating’ while boys try to get out of their pubescent drama. :P

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