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Posts Tagged ‘middle school’

I’m so excited to be a guest blogger on http://www.mothersrest.com this week! Click to read my post as well as all of the other great posts on MothersRest, hosted by Ginny Olson. https://www.mothersrest.com/be-good-humans/ I hope to host her here some day soon!

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Besides being a mom of three boys, I’m also a middle school teacher. And while I am of the persuasion that kids are precious and still learning and all of that, they can also be incredibly and deliberately cruel to one another. I hear it every day: taunts about weight, skin color, ancestry, hair, financial status. You name it, a middle school student has heard it either directed to them or to someone else. It’s really disturbing, sometimes, to hear what kids can say to each other. Girls are routinely called whores or bitches, boys are called pussies or girls as insults. Even eight- and nine-year-olds say these things. My school is a 4-8 and it still shocks me to hear a tiny 8-year-old tell another one to “shut the f- up.” This is even with all of the anti-bullying programs out there. By the way, this isn’t exclusive to my school, I’ve heard this my entire teaching career, including while subbing, at many different schools.

How we as adults deal with this behavior is really important. The thing is, a lot of times, when a child is subjected to these kinds of insults, adults either tell them to just ignore it or they turn the responsibility on the kid who was the target of the mean comment or action. They’re told to suck it up, “be a man” if they’re a boy (I absolutely DESPISE that term) instead of properly dealing with the situation. This sends the wrong message. I’ve heard boys say absolutely vile things to girls and when I’m confronting the boy, the girl will tell me that it’s okay, not wanting me to do something about it. The boy learns that he can get away with it and the girl learns to just let it happen. This teaches kids to not only expect but to tolerate verbal abuse, to accept it as a normal part of growing up when we should be teaching them to not say those things at all.

I’ve never been okay with that. When my boys would deliberately say or do something hurtful to one another, all most kids do, I tried my best to get them to understand exactly what they were doing, how words, especially, can hurt and for a very long time. I remember a lot of things said to me as a kid (as I’ve mentioned before, I was kind of an odd child by society standards) and I still feel a twinge of pain when I think of them. I wanted them to know that what they say in the heat of the moment can cut deeply. I wanted them to think before they spoke, to make a choice about what to do before repeating what someone else is passing around, and to put themselves in another’s position. Did it always work out in the real world? Honestly, I don’t know because I wasn’t with them 24/7 while they were at school or activities, but I do know that that kind of thing wasn’t tolerated in our house. I hope they remembered what we taught and what we tried to show them, even to this day.

I try to do the same thing when I hear students say these things. I pull them aside, if I can, one-on-one, and talk to them about what they said. Why did they say that? Do they even know what those words mean? Would they say that in front of their parents? (In some cases, the answer to that question is a heartbreaking, “Yes”.) What if someone said that to them? To their mother, father, siblings? In other words, I try to not only hold them accountable for their actions, but to do it in a way to make them think about why and to help them understand that there are consequences for their actions. Their brains are still growing and kids do dumb things when their bodies are changing and the hormones are flowing but that doesn’t mean that we can’t plant the seeds of being kind. It also means that we shouldn’t just dismiss it as “kids being kids” or, even worse, “boys being boys”. Shudder. And don’t be fooled, girls can be just as abusive, especially to each other, unfortunately.

Where do they learn it? It’s very simple. Us. The adults in their lives, either in their own homes or in the media, especially social media. Have you ever read the comments section? It’s a freaking scary place. Kids are left to roam online, unmonitored, uncensored, exposed to every racist, sexist, misogynistic thought out there. They are exposed to racism, porn of all kinds, not to mention incels and extremists. The internet is not a babysitter, but a lot of parents treat it that way. You don’t think your kid has seen anything? Don’t fool yourself. They’ve seen and heard more than you know. Even with the protections we took, our kids still managed to stumble on some crazy stuff. This is a scary time to be a parent.

What to do about it? Talk to your children. Learn about what’s going on their lives, who their friends are. Know where they’re going, not only physically, but online. Hold them accountable for their actions, teach them consequences without berating them and be consistent. Above all else, teach them to be kind and to treat others with respect in any situation and not just by telling them, by demonstrating it yourself. Treat others with kindness and respect and make sure your children see you do it, even if the waiter/waitress/customer service rep seems to be having a bad day and gets something wrong or the food is late. Don’t make disparaging remarks about women, men, other races or religions. Change your behavior if necessary and talk to your kids about it. Showing your kids that you can change is incredibly powerful. Be a good example.

Parenting is really difficult sometimes and most of us do the best we can, but we can always learn and grow. Parents are the most important example and influence in their child’s life. They imitate us, whether they realize it or not. The culture won’t change until we do.

Let’s raise kids to be good humans.

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My baby turns Thirteen tomorrow. He was almost two weeks late and beat the East Coast/Midwest Blackout by two hours. He was born purple, his umbilical cord tied in a knot and wrapped around his neck twice, but recovering immediately. He wanted his mama from the first moment and stays close to this day, but not too close. That would be completely uncool. I’m really not ready for this next stage, but it’s not my rodeo. Well, it kind of is. He is my son, after all, but the experience of becoming a teenager is his and his alone.

Thirteen has been seen as a rite of passage for a long time in many cultures, marked with parties, bar and bay mitzvahs, a step toward young adulthood, but also a time of confusion. Body changes, pressure to do well, and the desire to prove oneself can make turning thirteen more difficult than it needs to be.

I remember Thirteen and it wasn’t that great of a year, but then it was also a year where some exciting things happened. I remember being really jazzed to become a teenager. I have a late birthday and was always one of the youngest ones in my class, so turning thirteen and catching up with my friends was something that couldn’t come soon enough for me. I wish that I had had the gift of hindsight back then, to see that Thirteen was not all it’s cracked up to be. I still wasn’t an adult, much to my dismay, and I still had a LOT to learn.

It was during that year that I made the colossal mistake of calling one of my friends a bitch, and not even to her face, but in a note to a mutual friend. I wasn’t quite that brave and it was my first stab at speaking my mind. I didn’t even write out the whole word. If I remember correctly, I wrote, “B_T_H.”. In fairness, as I look back, she kind of deserved it, but that was not the best decision I ever made. Of course, I was ratted out by the mutual friend and popular opinion rained down on me for the rest of 8th grade, only letting up when we went to different high schools the next year. I learned a hard, valuable, lesson on social niceties and never wrote anything like that ever again.

Thirteen was also the year when I fell in love with the discipline and opportunities in marching band. I am a proud band geek, through and through. Thirteen was my first year of Band Camp, and it will be for Youngest Child, too, next summer. Band Camp was definitely a rite of passage. I had always loved music, I still do, but the late nights, early mornings, sweat, aches, heat, and sky-high diving platforms into the lake made me confident in my abilities. I met new, life-long friends (“Hi, I’m George.” “I’m Ringo.” “I’m Paul.” “I’m John. I’m dead.”) who knew nothing about the “bitch” incident and when they did find out, didn’t care. I found people who didn’t think I was weird, people who I fit in with. I was lucky that way. I loved everything about Band Camp and marching band and still do, even all these years later. I’m so glad that my boys have been through band and it makes me smile to see those friendships continue to grow.

Thirteen saw my first “real” boyfriend, whom I took to my first Homecoming Dance, and I am still friends with him to this day. I won’t elaborate too much, but it was an exciting time for me and that experience began teaching me how to gauge and handle future relationships in a good way. I always expected the respect that I was given with that first dating experience. I don’t like to think of Youngest Child dating at the moment, but the Italian mama in me does want him to find a nice girl someday.

Thirteen allows you to start forming the person that you will eventually be. That wonderful new ability to think abstractly makes you question ideas and beliefs that you’ve always had, in both good and bad ways. Boundaries are pushed, limits are tested, and while it drives parents crazy, it’s actually a good thing. It’s good practice for making adult decisions one day. As for parents, Thirteen means we can’t be with them every second, we shouldn’t be, and that we have to trust that they will make the good choices. Sometimes they won’t, and that part really sucks because we think we failed, but it helps to breathe deeply and to keep going. (A nice glass of wine at the end of the day doesn’t hurt, either.) Every day is a new day, a fresh day, and they need to know that. They need to know that they are loved, mistakes and all, and that we are the people they can count on, even if we overreact at first. We’re both going to screw up, parents and Thirteen, and if we understand that from the get-go, it’ll be easier to forgive ourselves and each other when it happens.

I hope that Thirteen is kind to my boy. He’s been through some storms this past year and I think we’re on the right track, but Thirteen can be tricky. I want him to be happy, but I want him to choose wisely. There’s  a reason why Thirteen was celebrated as a rite of passage; you’re not a little kid anymore and people really start to hold you responsible for your actions. People can eye teenagers with distaste and suspicion, myself included, and sometimes with good reason. Teenagers can be horribly obnoxious and even threatening. There’s something about the infusion of hormones, I think, that entices you to do stupid things sometimes. (Getting kicked out of JC Penney in Southland for jumping on the elevator rings a bell. Group mentality.) It isn’t fair, to be sure, especially to the kids who are amazing, like Oldest and Middle Children’s friends, but it remains and that’s something that Youngest Child will encounter as he turns Thirteen.

What do I wish for Youngest Child this year? I wish him wisdom. I wish him grace. I wish him some of the best memories he’ll ever make, and the friends to make them with. I wish him the fortitude to withstand peer pressure and to remember what we’ve taught him. I wish him love and acceptance. I wish him love. I wish him love. I wish him love.

In the meantime, I now have three teenagers and will appreciate all prayers and good thoughts.

Happy Birthday, Youngest Child. It’s gonna be great.

 

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