Now that Finn has three weeks of Junior high under his belt and is no longer quite so mesmerized by the bountiful offerings of the lunchroom, he’s had time to make new friends and gauge how the adventure is affecting his old friends. The stress and thrill of it all has already caused some friction.
The Tiny Kingdom has four elementary schools which run from kindergarten through grade six, and the junior high brings the students from all four schools together for grades seven through nine. Our elementary school is the smallest of the four, and Finn says he has several classes in which he’s the only kid from his school. He knows plenty of guys from playing sports, though, and seems to have made new friends quickly.
I sat Finn down for a frank talk before school started. I felt like he’s mature enough to recognize the social maneuverings that inevitably go at this age, and he’d be better equipped to deal with them if he was given a heads up about their existence. He’s never lacked self-confidence, and I wanted him to be prepared to stand up for his friends if they were ostracized, and to defend himself if his self-worth was attacked.
I told him that when I was in junior high, I saw people change. Some people decided that sports were the only thing that mattered. Others sought popularity at all costs. People who had been friends for years split up because one decided the other wasn’t athletic enough, pretty enough, or cool enough. Others drifted apart because they matured at different rates, their interests changed, or they found they had different values.
I even got down to the nitty-gritty and talked about girls and the way they can act at this age. I felt qualified to give this talk because I have a vagina and survived junior high. ( You know, there’s a reason we all loved The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink and those other movies that showed the cliques that form and the cruelty kids can inflict on one another. It’s because they’re true.)
I told him that he might see girls dropping friends in order to join a “more popular” group. He might see a couple of girls accorded special power, just because of their perceived status. What was important for him to remember was to be there for his friends, especially the girls, because they’re in for a rough few years.
We talked about first impressions being important. Teachers and peers form opinions of you quickly, and once formed, they’re hard to change. On the other hand, you should try not to make the same mistake. Don’t judge someone as a loser because he or she looks different.
It’s a difficult assignment – we make snap judgments about people all the time. As an example, I reminded him of my irrational prejudice against double first names, which are extremely common in the South. My first reaction is to conclude that the parents are either indecisive or snooty. I have absolutely no evidence to back up either of these determinations, and I must often remind myself that in fact I have many close friends whose kids have two first names. They are just as entitled to believe that mothers who name their children after Scandinavian countries are ditzy, to say the least. See? We’re all different. Our quirks plus a Coke make the world go round.
Bill overheard part of our conversation and thought it was unnecessary. Neither his parents nor mine ever had such a discussion with us. But when I look at Finn, I see a whole lot of me, and I would have appreciated a warning about what lay ahead.
We had our talk about a month ago. I’ve already heard through the grapevine that there are girls jostling for position, turning their backs on friends they’ve had since first grade, in order to be accepted by the “in” group. Social climbing never stops, and I surely can’t prevent it. I can only hope that Finn can see the bigger picture and be there for his friends, no matter how many first names they have.
I have a post up at Deep South Moms. Check it out!
Three years ago in My Tiny Kingdom: Not A Normal Day