I posted a link to a New York Times article on the blog’s Facebook page yesterday, but I think it’s important to share here as well.
Amid all of Ryan’s growing self-awareness, he understands that he does not have a lot of friends. He understands that he is different. For the first time, he is aware that other kids know he has an aide in school, and doesn’t like the things they say about it. He has figured out that there are “popular kids” in middle school and is very focused on the idea that to achieve “popular kid” status is the end-all-be-all of middle school.
Of course, we know better, having been middle-schoolers ourselves not so long ago (all right, it was a long time ago, but the rule still applies). We know that “popular” status in middle school often doesn’t hold, and that high school and beyond offer opportunities for kids to find their own niche and find it easier to fit in.
We tell Ryan this, of course, but it doesn’t resonate. Not at 13, and suddenly keenly aware that he wants more friends than he has. He remains fixated on being accepted by the “popular kids.” He even took the bold step of moving himself to their lunch table.
As Ryan said it, he “put himself out there.” It went OK, for a while, but after a period of weeks he discovered what we told him was true: that some of the kids and that group may not be the nicest, and might not be the best place for him to seek out friendship.
He also discovered that some of them liked to break rules — something he’s never been comfortable with at school — and have a careless attitude towards schoolwork. He “tried on” some of these behaviors, to borrow a phrase from one of the facilitators of his social skills group. In some cases (cursing) he’s kept at it, while in others (not studying) he quickly discarded the idea.
As the year drew to a close, he told us he realized he wasn’t really accepted at his new lunch table, but with only a few days left didn’t want to give anyone the satisfaction of moving.
We were discussing this and other developments in a year-end meeting with the social skills facilitator when she made the point that all the things that matter so much in middle school, ie “popular kids,” tend to not matter so much at the next level.
That was yesterday morning. Yesterday evening, I was perusing Twitter when I saw a link to the New York Times article headlined “Cool at 13, Adrift at 23” which is about a scientific study into the matter of whether children who are ahead of the social curve at a young age tend to fall behind it when they get older (evidence suggests they do). It’s an interesting read. I found this paragraph of particular note because it sounds so much like what Ryan is dealing with.
As fast-moving middle-schoolers, they were driven by a heightened longing to impress friends. Indeed their brazen behavior did earn them a blaze of popularity. But by high school, their peers had begun to mature, readying themselves to experiment with romance and even mild delinquency. The cool kids’ popularity faded.
I urge you to read the entire thing. I want Ryan to read it. We can all use a reminder that middle school is a tough time for lots of kids — special needs or no. Further, for lots of kids who seem to have it all figure out at that age, the tough times are still ahead.
3 thoughts on “Cool at 13, Adrift at 23”
Long but interesting and possibly relevant: Paul Graham’s essay Why Nerds Are Unpopular.
Thanks for sharing, Tom. I will definitely check that out.