My younger son is smack in the middle of seventh grade, and until a few days ago, I thought he was succeeding at getting through middle school unscathed. I wasn’t able to achieve this, but as with most things, I hoped my child would outdo me. Dimples is an outwardly super-confident kid (the outdoing is working in this case), which might be attributed to the fact that most things come fairly easily to him.
I’m starting to think, though, that this is how he masks his insecurities. I’ve grown used to his tough exterior, so the other day, I was taken aback when he came home from school and lied down in his coat on the living room rug. It was the unlikeliest of times for a heart to heart – 4:00 on a snowy Tuesday. It took little prompting to get him to open up; one simple question about what was wrong unburdened him of a considerable weight. For the last few years, he’s been an actively social kid, not just hanging out with one friend, but roaming the Earth in a small pack. It’s generally the same four or five boys, but sometimes, he branches out and spends time with other kids. My partner G and I would occasionally wonder why he never hung out one-on-one with anyone, but we didn’t dwell.
This past Tuesday, Dimples confided that the friend stuff is exhausting him and causing him serious stress. He said that when he has a lot of homework, he just wants to come home and get to work because it’s important to him to do well in school (ahhh, the music), but if he doesn’t follow the pack to the day’s host house, he’s made to feel like he missed the best time ever had by 13-year olds anywhere.
Who knew the demands of the seventh grade social circuit were so great or that life at this age was just as harrowing for boys as for girls? Broadening his friendships beyond the usual kids? He catches grief for it. Hanging out with just one boy? He’d really like to, but he feels he can’t because it will look like he’s rejecting the rest of the crowd. He actually just spent an afternoon with one of the pack and told me how nice it was. Getting off the wheel of social conformity for a second, whether to do language arts or spend a few hours with one friend, just isn’t done.
I regaled him of my painful experience with middle school groupthink, because as I mentioned, I had it rough way, way back in the day. I assured him that as of eighth grade, or more likely ninth, this ridiculous exertion of energy to be like everyone else will cease. While I am absolutely sure of this, I know it’s precious little consolation for a boy in tears who doesn’t understand why the person he’s always considered his closest friend is suddenly making fun of him because it gets him laughs from the posse. He even went so far as to say he wants to feel wanted the way he perceives his older brother’s friends want him.
My desire to crack heads and home school him through this abysmal time was toned down to a big hug and a promise to spend some time together, him and me. I hate to see him suffer, but I love that he trusted me enough to talk. Middle school can be a torturous time, even, perhaps especially, for the outwardly self-assured. Hopefully, Dimples’ children will have better luck outdoing him.
This is an original post for JerseyMomsBlog by Liz Kingsley.