Middle school is the Age of Extreme Self-Consciousness. This was evident last week when I asked students to write a short paragraph about a person or event at our school that had impacted their lives.
After several minutes of discussion, they got to work and finished in short order. As they handed in their papers, almost all of them said, “Don’t read mine out loud!” Curious, I looked over the papers, expecting to find embarrassing stories. No such thing. They’d written about learning to play an instrument, or being hugged by a teacher on a bad day, or playing on the basketball team.
So why the reluctance to share? Because at this age, the social rules are unwritten – and unclear. They can’t predict what will bring scorn and laughter from their peers, so it’s easiest not to take the risk.
What they don’t see is that their peers are laughing because of their own discomfort. They’re all worried about doing the right thing, and it’s safer to mock the efforts of others than to approve of them – and risk being mocked by someone else for doing so. It’s a scary, anxiety-ridden spiral that few middle schoolers escape, so the safest move is to be as unnoticed as possible.
It’s important for parents to be sensitive to this self-conscious time and not to belittle their middle schoolers for their feelings. Doing so only makes them feel stuck between the scorn of their peers and that of their parents.
Be respectful of the pain they’re experiencing. They’ll be grateful.