Don’t We All Want to Belong?
One of the advantages of adulthood is being able to selectively avoid new situations and, I suppose, that’s a reason, too, why more adults are lonelier than kids. It sure is tough to make the transition from elementary school to junior high. Even with old friends by our side, there are the inner jitters of a new place. “Where do I go?” “What if I end up in the wrong class?” and then what happens if we meet some kid who just does not like our looks, our name, or the color of our backpack? Don’t we all want to belong?
Junior high presents the firsthand conscious experience of fitting in or not. Look back on your own experience and recall what memories are stirred up in that block of grades from sixth to eighth. I think of sitting next to Bill and laughing at our private jokes during class. I remember, too, getting tackled on the playground by an eighth grader for the “fun” of it. The guy who wrote the screenplay for the old movie, My Bodyguard, knew something about the difficulty of belonging in a new school.
So how do we help those whom we love punch through the necessary new events in life? The simplest wisdom is that it will get better if you work at it. When “get better” arrives is, of course, not guaranteed for this year. Nonetheless, while most John Hughes movies suggest adolescent anguish is wrapped up in about two hours, helping kids see that sustained efforts at friendliness can pay off in the long run and in life, and is a durable lesson worth learning. Allowing a child to sort through options and experimenting with alternatives promotes the kind of growth school is about. My son informed me shortly into the start of sixth grade year that a fellow classmate was peeing on him during showers after gym. Three years of study at Northwestern University never covered that psychological topic. Fortunately, with parental ballistic responses under firm control, Michael spoke up to the teacher and got the leak plugged.
Outside of school activities, it is important to encourage the interests the child expresses. Finding a place to shine and a thing to do that is enjoyed for its own pleasure is a goal worth pursuing for the sake of contentment as well as personal achievement. Having a natural refuge from some of the stresses of transition does much for the spirit.
Finally, we can do a great deal for our children’s hope by telling them that it really does get better as you get older.