Last week I greeted one of my 8th grade girls with a question: “Did you see your mom’s new profile picture on Facebook?”
“No, is it bad?”
“It’s a picture of you, and let’s just say you look. . .joyful.”
“Can you show it to me?”
I pulled out my phone and she gasped in dismay. In the photo she was laughing hard, mouth wide open and eyes squeezed shut. It wasn’t an ugly picture, but it wasn’t very flattering, either.
The other girls clamored to see it, but she begged me not to show them. Even though I knew they’d be supportive, I honored her request to protect her dignity. After all, she’s 13, which is a huge year for self-consciousness, and I didn’t want to embarrass her. She talked to her mom that evening, and the picture changed to a 13-year-old holding a puppy and smiling serenely.
It may seem entertaining to embarrass a middle schooler, but the agony they experience is real. You could compare their pain to what adults feel when a significant other shares something that was meant to be kept secret. Add to that the feelings of inferiority experienced by most middle schoolers, and it’s no wonder they lash out at parents who fail to protect their reputation.
In this case, the mom was wise to quickly change the photo, regardless of how cute she thought it was. Parents who understand their middle schoolers’ discomfort and respect it have better relationships with their kids, because these are parents who can be trusted. And parents who can be trusted get to hear what’s on teenage minds and hearts.
Speaking of trust, I asked my student if I could use her picture in my post, and she said, “Oh, please, no!” Instead I used a picture of a friend’s joyful baby–because at the tender age of 18 months, she doesn’t mind at all! (And yes, her mom did give me permission on her behalf.)
Sue Acuña has taught middle school for over 20 years; she currently teaches at Concordia Lutheran in Tacoma, WA.