I was chatting with parents who were concerned about their 5th grader’s use of baby talk: “Is she immature? Do you think it means she has emotional issues?”
It’s such a part of my life that I don’t realize how odd it is for others to hear it. Middle schoolers will resort to using a babyish tone of voice when they are embarrassed or self-conscious. Put them in front of the room for a speech or a presentation, and many of them will speak with it – especially at the beginning of the year. It can happen when they raise their hand and are called on, too.
I went straight to the source and asked my 7th and 8th graders why it happens. They were split between two explanations. The first camp said that when little kids talk, everybody thinks it’s cute, so middle schoolers do it to try to be cute.
The second camp (the one I lean toward) said that they don’t want to be taken seriously in case people think that what they’re saying sounds dumb. If it’s spoken like a baby, they can always back out and say, “I was just kidding.”
When it happens in class, I stop the speaker and ask for a repeat without the baby voice. The tone of voice changes almost every time. As the weeks go by, all it takes is a one-word reminder, “Voice,” for the speaker to stop – and then start over in a normal tone.
(Though I’ll be the first to admit that “normal” in middle school is hard to define.)