Picture 14-year-olds at a banquet. You may be imagining spoons hanging off their noses or food flying across the table, or maybe yawns and queries of “How much longer?”
Last week I attended a luncheon with the 8th graders shown above. They were part of the entertainment, but after singing (unexpectedly a cappella), they got to sit down for lunch just like the other guests. They needed a little help figuring out which fork to use, and they didn’t all recognize the blue fan-shaped objects in front of their plates as napkins, but otherwise they handled it well.
Yet there were definite signs that they were 14-year-olds. For example, two of the girls noticed teabags on the table but no hot water, so they attempted to make iced tea in their water glasses (tip: it doesn’t work). The two boys entertained themselves playing tic-tac-toe on the program, while one of the other girls headed to the bathroom to clean the Caesar dressing off her shoe (“It wasn’t my fault!”). One of the boys poured himself a small cup of coffee and, after adding two creams and two sugars, pronounced it “pretty good!”
Overall, I was proud of their ability to behave like young adults even as I was entertained by their antics. Middle schoolers are comfortable being children but at the same time really want to learn how to be grown-ups. They can step it up when they need to, but they reserve the right to be silly if they feel like it. One of my secrets to getting along with this age group is to treat them like young adults but not to be surprised when they act like kids.
When the luncheon ended, I told them I was so proud of them that I was going to take them all out for dinner. “Cool!” said one of the guys. “Will we get to order dessert?”