Junior high is itself its own ecosystem. It’s a collection of ecosystems, actually, because I’m thinking each one is uniquely different in varying, maybe only subtle, ways – mostly wardrobe, I’m guessing.
Once the first week of school had finished, and my seventh-grader had successfully completed her initiation into a new atmosphere – one that included a school bus route for the first time and exposure to hundreds of new kids – I just watched her from across the table, as if she was from another planet.
She looked the same. Same height, same hair. But she had a new vocabulary, and relied on it to relay the day’s events at school. Her voice included a sliding inflection, a looser diction, a more relaxed delivery, as if she knew that she knew things I didn’t.
Even though I knew them in my own way decades ago, when I would shove my backpack into a skinny locker and scurry around wondering who was “going” with who. That, pre-algebra, zits and hideous PE uniforms, were basically all of middle school.
And slowly, over time, her sarcasm has been shaped with more confidence. I’m still trying to figure out that maturation, whether it came with trial and error, whether it’s just what happens as kids age, or whether it is a reflection of the “burn” culture that thrives in junior high.
It’s also hard to miss the way boys and girls interact, in part because she tells me. And I’m grateful for it, because I then get the opportunity to reinforce appropriate behavior or make sure she understands, clearly, the types of interactions she and her friends should never tolerate.
Those being the ones that make them feel uncomfortable – where they blush without warning. Or just have no idea how to respond, because a comment or perceived compliment was so out of bounds. And second, so I can learn the lingo. Like, “snack.”
As in, “You look like a snack.”
There was more to that statement, one that was made to a girl from a boy (not my kid and not a boy I know), but to be honest, I’m embarrassed to type it out. It was a very aggressive, covertly explicit statement that indicated he was entitled to her body. It’s not seventh-grade language. Or is it?
If it is, we have some serious reflection to do as parents and as a society – and I know we’re doing that. But is it trickling down? And if it is, is it trickling down fast enough? And with the right tools and lessons and role models to help shape future interactions?
Or, are the seventh-graders of today just going to be the latest generations – as adults – who find the strength to confront the ways they were violated for any number of years, while those responsible for those violations look around stunned, knowing it was accepted for as long as they can remember. I’m not trying to be dramatic, but I sincerely worry when this type of exchange can happen so casually. Between 12 and 13-year-olds.
And it probably does happen quite a bit. And there are probably A LOT of pre-teen and teenage girls who don’t know what to think about statements like that, wondering if they should be flattered or pissed or embarrassed or disenfranchised.
They should be two of the four. Pissed and disenfranchised. And they should know it’s totally acceptable to feel that way. It’s the boy who should be embarrassed.
Seems junior high has a lot of learning to do.