The bestselling author of Perfect Madness trains her eye on the middle-school years: why they're so painful, how parents unwittingly make them worse, and what we can do about it. The French have a name for the uniquely hellish years between elementary school and high school: "l'Age 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 parents and children 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 piercing insight, compassion, and humor, 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, achievement, and sorting-in some ways a residual effect of their own middle-school experiences-and that this is worsening the self-consciousness and self-absorption so typical of early adolescence. Drawing on new insights from neuroscience and psychology, and bringing together the voices of social scientists, child development experts, educators, and parents, Warner 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 intellectual investigation and part call to action, this timely book unpacks one of life's most formative periods and shows how we can help our children not only survive it, but thrive.