Happy Halloween!!!! In the spirit of the season, let me ask a question: is your child a trick or a treat? What do you think? What would coaches and teachers think?
One of the most difficult things about writing a book is making sure that the characters are three-dimensional--that they are not cardboard cut-outs, cliches with names. I think most authors would agree with me on this point. This is especially true when writing villains, but also of protagonists.
For some reason, we humans have a tendency to put everything into categories of bad and good. Heroes and villains. Black and white without much gray. We do this with people we know, and we do this with children, including our own.
I once had a meeting with a parent. This parent was concerned that their child was being bullied by another child. When they told me the name of the alleged bully, I was a little surprised. That did not track with what I knew about that student. I didn't disbelieve them, I just hadn't seen that kind of behavior before. I started watching more carefully and was surprised to see that the behavior described was accurate. The story was more two-sided than the parent realized--but it was certainly accurate.
I struggled to figure out how this student--someone who had always been kind and considerate and polite to other students could have done that. It broke my conception of that student. Until I realized that my conception was wrong and incomplete.
On another occasion, a student that most people (myself included) saw as being vain and rather shallow came up to me to express sincere concern about something that a classmate had said. This apparently vain student was worried that the classmate was having a serious problem and needed adult intervention. Again, it sho
The point of these stories is simple and it's something we all know. But it's one of those things that is simple to say but difficult to put into practice.
Very few people are all bad or all good. Most of us are a pretty well-assorted mix bag. This is equally true, perhaps especially true in middle school.
Adults are also mixed bags, but generally speaking, either self-discipline or conformity to social norms generally mitigates the extremes and in our behavior in public, we generally tend to hew fairly close to the man.
Middle school students generally live at the extremes of emotional experience. They live in a world where everything is big and dramatic, stark and high-definition. Psychadelic, not pastel. They don't do nuance well. They experience the highest highs and lowest lows--often within the same day, or at least the same week.
This means that the normal human tendency to be a combination of both good and bad is magnified and that average middle school student is capable of both incredible feats of kindness and breathtaking cruelty in a way that most average adults are not. An average middle school student has a greater range.
A student can be a pretty good kid and still do something mean or stupid or thoughtless in a way that most adults don't.
To begin with, they don't have the decision making skills of an adult and their impulse control is very immature. Imagine how you feel on your worst day and the things that you would do, but for your ability to control your impulses.
This is why good kids say and so incredibly stupid or unkind things. It's why kids who seem shallow and disengaged suddenly show great sensitivity.
It's important for all of us--parents and students--to realize that these kids are works-in-progress. They are developing at a dizzying rate. It's also important to realize that because of this, their personalities are not fixed. It's far to early to decide that someone is mean or good, that someone is a villain.
I've seen adults do this frequently. Most often, it occurs when child A has a conflict with child B. Usually, almost always, in fact, that conflict is two-sided. But our human tendency to cast everyone around us as heroes and villains leads the parents of the children to cast their own child as the hero/victim and the other child as the villain. The parents elevate immaturity to malice and even evil. I note that it's easy to do this with your own children as well.
The reality is that very good kids make very poor choices. Often. And it's important not to fix on a series of those and overlook the other things they do--especially when their personalities are as fluid as they are at this age. You don't want to typecast a kid--people who are typecast have a way of learning to play to type consistently.
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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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