And Then They Stopped Talking to Me
Published by: Penguin Random House
Release Date: May 5, 2020
Buy the Book: Bookshop, Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, Google Play, IndieBound, Kobo
Through the stories of kids and parents in the middle school trenches, a New York Times bestselling author reveals why these years are so painful, how parents unwittingly make them worse, and what we all need to do to grow up.
The French have a name for the uniquely hellish years between elementary school and high school: l’âge ingrat, or “the ugly age.” Characterized by a perfect storm of developmental changes—physical, psychological, and social—the middle school years are a time of great distress for children and parents alike, marked by hurt, isolation, exclusion, competition, anxiety, and often outright cruelty. Some of this is inevitable; there are intrinsic challenges to early adolescence. But these years are harder than they need to be, and Judith Warner believes that adults are complicit.
With deep insight and compassion, Warner walks us through a new understanding of the role that middle school plays in all our lives. She argues that today’s helicopter parents are overly concerned with status and achievement—in some ways a residual effect of their own middle school experiences—and that this worsens the self-consciousness, self-absorption, and social “sorting” so typical of early adolescence.
Tracing a century of research on middle childhood and bringing together the voices of social scientists, psychologists, educators, and parents, Warner’s book shows how adults can be moral role models for children, making them more empathetic, caring, and resilient. She encourages us to start treating middle schoolers as the complex people they are, holding them to high standards of kindness, and helping them see one another as more than “jocks and mean girls, nerds and sluts.”
Part cultural critique and part call to action, this essential book unpacks one of life’s most formative periods and shows how we can help our children not only survive it but thrive.
“Judith Warner brilliantly challenges the assumption that middle school has to be a chalkboard jungle, offering both fascinating social history and practical advice on a life stage that sends many adults into a PTSD spiral. She shows how, by compassionately revisiting their own pasts, parents can truly support early adolescents in developing the building blocks for long-term happiness and resilience, ultimately making those years better—for ourselves and, most importantly, for our children.”
—Peggy Orenstein, author of Boys & Sex and Girls & Sex
“As the parent of a middle schooler, I felt as if Judith Warner had peered into my life—and the lives of many of my patients. With clarity, compassion, and insight, And Then They Stopped Talking to Me brilliantly captures the landscape of kids’ experiences today and the psychological, familial, and cultural forces shaping them. Along the way, Warner debunks age-old myths and offers practical guidance that every parent can use. This is a gift to our kids and their future selves.”
—Lori Gottlieb, author of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone
“I don’t know a single adult who did not feel alone, insecure, or deeply self-conscious in middle school. Judith Warner puts the pieces of the puzzle together to show us just how not-alone we were—and gives us the knowledge to guide our children through one of the most painful moments of childhood.”
—Rachel Simmons, author of Odd Girl Out and Enough As She Is
“If your child’s middle school journey is unraveling you, Judith Warner’s new book is the one you need to read. She will give you the gift of perspective, along with a personal and scientific understanding of what is happening to your child. I have often advised parents not to allow themselves to be sucked back into middle school when they see their children’s distress or hear their war stories. But I had no guidebook to offer them. Now I do.”
—Michael G. Thompson, co-author of Raising Cain
“Judith Warner has written a compulsively readable book, a cross between The Breakfast Club and Desperate Housewives. I only wish I’d had it on my bedside table when my own kids were adolescents. But I’d actually recommend it for parents at any stage, as it holds a mirror up to us as much as to our kids, and indeed to society as a whole. We created the whole concept of middle school and its associated traumas; it’s time to free ourselves!”
—Anne-Marie Slaughter, author of Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family
“Judith Warner reminds us of the emotional, psychological and cognitive demands of early adolescence—both our own and that of our children. With her usual sharply-tuned ability to chronicle the traumatic in the ordinary, she shows that our primary role with our middle school children is to remain steadfastly compassionate and help them make sense of the chaotic and unforgiving world they often live in. An indispensable parents’ companion for navigating one of the most challenging and extraordinary stages in life.”
—Madeline Levine, author of The Price of Privilege and Ready or Not
“Much has been written about our maddening middle schoolers, but little about their parents. Warner remedies this omission by demonstrating—through history and horror stories, research and reflection—how by reliving our own anxieties and traumas, we wind up arming our middle schoolers for battle rather than equipping them for kindness. We swallow our kids’ emotions and pain, then wonder why we feel sick. In this revelatory, original book, Warner shows there’s a better way, one marked by a balance of connection, distance, and empathy—for other kids as much as our own.”
—Linda Perlstein, author of Not Much Just Chillin’: The Hidden Lives of Middle Schoolers
“This book is many wonderful things: a fascinating tour of the history of early adolescence; a powerful exploration of the ways our own experiences as former adolescents can reverberate across our lives; a masterful assembly of research and insightful, propulsive reporting. Perhaps most importantly, it illuminates how we as adults can do the most essential work of all—raise children, at a time in their lives when we may find them alienating and infuriating, to be happy people who care about others and about creating a more just world.”
—Richard Weissbourd, Senior Lecturer and Director of Making Caring Common, Harvard Graduate School of Education
“Judith Warner has written the book that every parent of every adolescent needs and has not been able to find. It not only helps us decipher what’s going on inside our middle schoolers’ hearts and minds, but also gives us concrete advice on what to do about it. I found myself wishing I'd had it when my children were younger. Then I found myself wishing that my mother had it when I was younger. Middle school is a monstrous roller coaster ride. Warner helps us heal our own still-bruised psyches so we can actually help our children.”
—Lisa Belkin, creator of the Motherlode blog for the New York Times
“It’s easy to feel overwhelmed parenting a middle school child. Judith Warner gives us the historical context to understand that we didn’t get so anxious about this period for no reason. I learned a tremendous amount reading this book!”
—Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bees and Wannabes and Masterminds and Wingmen
“It’s been over 40 years and I still get a knot in my stomach when I drive by my hometown junior high school. Judith Warner’s remarkable, compassionate, fascinating look at the terrifying abyss that is called middle school has given me a perspective and insight that I only wish I’d had decades ago. It’s a must.”
—Ayelet Waldman, author of Bad Mother and A Really Good Day
“This deeply researched and deeply empathetic book is one that every parent, every teacher and every school counselor, administrator and would-be reformer should read. Judith Warner challenges us to think beyond the stereotypes, the headlines, the hype and our own often painful memories of trying to find our footing in the adult world and offers a compassionate portrait of what it means to grow up in America, what kids really need, and the universal drive to belong.”
—Brigid Schulte, author of Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time
“Grounded in unforgettable interviews, with a sharp eye for the apt quotation and anecdote, and packed with fresh insights into the relevant psychological and sociological literature, this captivating book cuts across the boundaries of gender, race, ethnicity, class, and sexual orientation to lay bare the realities of pre-teen life today and the damaging imprint those experiences and memories impart upon our future identities, interpersonal relationships, and emotional expectations.”
—Steven Mintz, The University of Texas at Austin
“If middle school is as fraught for you as a parent as it is for your child, Judith Warner’s honest, raw writing on the topic offers a dose of sanity in the midst of what often feels like fresh madness. Filled with wry humor and a reassuring sense of dealing with someone who’s been in the trenches, And Then They Stopped Talking to Me will get you talking about the middle school experience in a way that will ease the journey for everyone in your family.”
—KJ Dell’Antonia, author of How to Be a Happier Parent
Due to the pandemic, many parents are dealing with the unprecedented situation of having middle school students at home all day. Do you have any advice for parents on how to navigate this time as smoothly as possible?
This is an incredibly stressful time for families. Even for those fortunate enough not to be dealing with illness or unemployment, homelessness or hunger, the pressures and anxiety are crippling. The demands on parents are, to my mind, downright cruel—the expectation that they can homeschool kids while trying to home-earn a living is simply crazy. And however bad it is for parents overall, there’s a strong argument to be made that for parents of middle schoolers, the situation is the worst.
Because early adolescence is such a sensitive period, all the stresses and anxieties of this awful and weird time are hitting middle schoolers extra hard. Everything is out of whack; they live for their friends, and they can’t see them. They’re wired to want more independence from their parents, and they’re stuck at home with them, 24/7. And just when everyone is flooded with anxiety, rattling with uncertainty and struggling to function and focus, they’re being saddled with the worst aspects of school (worksheets!) but without the social contact, with both teachers and peers, that can make learning so rewarding.
Parents have to give themselves and their middle schoolers a break. They have to recognize that they’re being put in a position to do the impossible: to be teacher, counselor, coach, tutor and afterschool program director all rolled into one, with no training and, of course, no preparation.
We can’t let the social pathologies of the moment infect our family relationships. Parents of middle schoolers in particular have to give themselves—and their kids—a break. They can’t allow themselves to go crazy trying to control the uncontrollable. And if that means assignments don’t get done, that grades aren’t great, so be it. Math can always be retaught. Undoing the effects of toxic levels of stress is much, much harder. Prioritize your relationship with your kids above all else.
What inspired the book’s title?
Coming up with a title that captured the full sweep of the book—which looks at middle school not just as an educational institution but as a phase of life, a set of memories and, above all, a feeling—was no simple thing. Ultimately, it was a matter of closing my eyes and letting what I’ve come to think of as the “middle school feeling” wash over me. And then, there it was: that terrifying, out-of-the-blue day when, suddenly, they stopped talking to me. (The “popular” girls. In eighth grade.) That’s the way the words came to me. What was interesting, however, was that other people, hearing the title for the first time, just as quickly interpreted it very differently: they imagined the “me” as a middle school parent, dealing with kids who’d suddenly withdrawn into the stony silence of closed bedroom doors and headphones. What was great, I realized, was that the title could work on both levels—capturing the middle school experience from both a kid’s and an adult’s perspective.
When it comes to being in middle school, or parenting children of that age, how has the landscape changed since your New York Times bestseller PERFECT MADNESS was published in 2005?
The advent of the iPhone is the most important change of all. The use of communication
technology to further the cause of in-group/out-group social sorting and plain-old meanness is hardly new; iPhones didn’t create middle school cruelty or angst. I think that everyone who went through what was still most commonly called “junior high” in the 1970s and ’80s remembers the nefarious practice of a “friend” calling another friend and getting her to say terrible things about a third friend, who was listening in from another extension. FOMO isn’t new either—you can find junior high girls suffering over the fear of missing out in books and women’s magazines going back at least to the 1940s. (One even wrote to Eleanor Roosevelt about it.) With the spread of smartphones and the proliferation of social media, the difference in the past fifteen or so years is that there’s no escape, ever: middle school buzzes in your pocket, follows you home, lives in your bedroom, and never, ever gives you a break.