First of all, a friend asked me recently where they could find former posts for Middle School Mondays. I was happy that someone wanted to read them. In case that applies to anyone else, there's a now link on the sidebar. If you look at the top of the sidebar to your right, you should find it.
I've mentioned before that in middle school no one feels popular, no one feels like they have arrived socially. As an interesting appendix to that discussion, I saw this little scoop about Taylor Swift. She told Vogue magazine, "I don't ever feel like the cool kid." Think how many people would love, love, love to be Taylor Swift. But she doesn't have a sense of being "there." If Taylor Swift doesn't, then I think it's safe to say the average 7th grader is the same, no matter what your perception is.
This is a much more important insight than most people realize. Because social perceptions inform middle school-age interactions more than any single factor I can think of.
Some time ago, I was contacted by the parent of a student. This student was not fully enjoying participation in an extra-curricular activity because some of the student's peers were not being as nice and supportive of the student as would have been hoped. I don't think anyone was being actively mean--but they weren't working to make it a good experience for this particular student.
I tried to teach this principle and pointed out that the other students felt just as insecure. I suggested that this student take charge and act in the way that she/he hoped someone else would act.
Every time I share this with parents and students, they are surprised and incredulous, but I'm telling you, it's true. The vast majority of kids all feel like they are not cool. Even the kids everyone else thinks are cool.
Because they don't feel cool, they are likely not going to reach out and include your child in the cool group--they don't seem themselves as having any ability to do that since they want to be in the cool group themselves.
The only productive choice you have here is to try to coach your child into doing what makes him or her happy. Coach them to reach out to other people and to be as considerate and nice to others as they hope others will be to them. If they will do this, they may not attain a sense of popularity or coolness, but they will be happy! And they'll start to free themselves from the tyranny of what other people think.
I watched one year as one student did a lot of reaching out to others. The student in question was definitely one of the "cool" kids. However I don't believe that she acted in this way because she was cool. I watched her closely and it seemed to me that she made a choice at the beginning of the year that she was going to be nice to people, that she was going to reach out and be inclusive. She did this by choosing to ignore her own insecurities and focusing on others--not because she was inherently comfortable.
Watching her do this was like watching someone trying to master a new physical skill. At first it was awkward and a bit stilted. She wasn't comfortable or smooth at it. But as she continued, she's became very deft and adept and mad, I think, a real difference for some other kids.
But this was not a modern social equivalent of the lady of the manor comfortably bestowing kindness on the peasants. It was one of many students who decided she wanted to help her class grow closer and instead of waiting for others to act (and complaining when they didn't) was going to make a difference on her own--even if she, like Taylor Swift, didn't feel like she was one of the cool kids.
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Thoughts about raising and teaching adolescents. You can read the complete series here. (What in the world are Middle School Mondays?) Click here.
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