Saturday, July 24, 2004

Middle school research

It was with some trepidation that I plucked "Not Much Just Chillin': The Hidden Lives of Middle Schoolers" off the library shelf. Would it be like the movie "Thirteen," filled with possibilities that would terrify me for my daughter? Would it be like some of the nonfiction books on the cult of aggression in girls, causing me to think seriously about homeschooling? I'm eager to know what other kids in this stage of development are going through so I can reassure her when she's having scary but normal feelings. I've assured her that she could ask most any adult and they would agree that middle school was one of the worst times in their lives. But am I really up for reading about how that "worst" manifests itself now?

As it turns out, I am. The book is well-written and entertaining as well as insightful, and it has reassured me that much of what my daughter's dealing with is normal, so I can continue to reassure her. There are stages here she hasn't reached; she's not as hostile and withdrawn from her parents as some of the kids in the book, and if there's as much overt sexual aggression going on in her school as in the one in the book, she doesn't understand it as such yet. Although she's two years older than her classmates, her emotional and social (though not physical, alas) development still lags behind. But there are signs that she's starting to get with the adolescent agenda. For years, she was adament that baggy T-shirts and shorts or sweats were "her style," and refused to consider anything more stylish. But this summer, she's started commenting on the cute clothes the kids in Disney Channel movies wear, and admitting that she'd like to dress like that. She's starting to feel bad about looking different, which is kind of a sad transition but a -- that word again -- normal one. We've agreed that her new stylishness will not include bare midriffs, tight tops or low necklines -- still "not my style" -- but certainly a little more cuteness in her wardrobe would not be a bad idea. That she even wants to shop at all is a radical turn-around.

She's starting to be less interested in boys as buddies and more interested in boys as boys. She's starting to wish she had a friend, not just girls she's friendly with in class but a friend to walk with and talk with and bond with. She's starting to worry about what people think of her, and she's sure that she's the only one people stare at and talk about and reject. Yes indeed, we're in middle school now. And I need to study hard.

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