Several months ago, our eleven-year-old suddenly morphed from a little kid into a tweenager. This (literal and figurative) development thrilled Lili and terrified us. Shortly thereafter, we discovered that my clothes and shoes fit her, another milestone which delighted her but struck fear into my heart. Lil now calls everyone “bruh” and does a lot of posing in front of the mirror. And, while her actual Bruh continues to worship her, she no longer finds him particularly endearing most days.
With the transition from elementary to middle school came more than changed bus routes, buildings and classmates. New hormones are on board too, affecting how the kids see and treat each other and themselves. Lilia has become concerned with which traits define a “cool” kid, what pants might make her look fat, and whether or not her parents might embarrass her in public. In case you’re wondering how I fare – she stands at least 3 feet away from me anytime we are out together.
We have frequent conversations about how to handle actual and theoretical social situations. Thinking back to my days in Junior High (I am so ancient as to have grown up in the days B.M.S. -Before Middle School) stirred vivid memories of the buzzing excitement of new friendships, as well as the devastation of peer rejection. It occurred to me that adult interactions are not all that different from middle school ones. As with most things, it is also easier to evaluate them from a bit of a distance.
A brilliant friend of mine, JoAnne, recommends taking a moment to picture the situation from above. Looking down from cruising altitude, she points out, puts things in perspective. Big problems, even major cities appear manageable (small, even!) from 30,000 feet. This morning, I did a flyover of Early Adolescence and Adult Relationships, and made a little guide to navigating their respective and collective inter- and personal struggles.
1. Mean is never cute, or funny, or fun. Being kind *is* being cool.
2. Big girls do cry. And so do boys, and men, and women. Crying is healthy for everyone.
3. The best apology is changed behavior. That said: apologize, too.
4. Practice keeping promises.
5. Learn to keep a secret, with one exception: even the most casually-delivered threat of self-harm or violence towards others must be taken seriously and not kept quiet.
6. No means NO. Full stop.
7. Don’t dumb yourself down for anybody – intelligence is nothing to hide.
8. Love is love. No matter the color, gender, shape, age. Whether or not it looks the same as yours is irrelevant. It is all love.
9. Never make derogatory comments about someone else’s body or appearance. Ever. No exceptions.
10. It is healthy to disagree. Learn to do so respectfully.
11. The best indicator of future behavior is past behavior. Change takes effort, and time. Be wary of someone who has been hurtful to you (or anyone, truly) repeatedly.
12. Make a habit of checking in with your friends: How are they doing? Is there something they need? Anything bothering them?
13. Make a habit of checking in with yourself as well.
14. Tell the truth.
15. Practice putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. How would you feel if you were in their place? What might help (or hurt)?
16. Give, with no expectation of receiving in return.
15. Do the right thing even when it is not the easy thing. Being a good person is not always easy.
16. Never be ashamed of wearing your heart on your sleeve. It is not a sign of weakness, rather a badge of honor.
17. Whether you fall means nothing. It’s whether you get up that matters.
18. Normal is just a setting on the dryer.