Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Hidden Lives of Middle Schoolers

I just finished reading Not Much Just Chillin' -- The Hidden Lives of Middle Schoolers. A teacher's review here and I wrote some quick notes over at Goodreads.

It's certainly a book to read if you're wondering if that sulky, unmotivated pre-teen of yours would be better off at school. It seems he would stay self-absorbed, spacy, hormonal and unmotivated because to an extent these are developmental imperatives and part of the process of learning to reflect and understand himself, but he would be in the equivalent of an echo chamber where he could receive the worst effects of everyone else's developmental process plus the worst of a materialistic, pornographic culture. And even the purely educational aspect of it would probably do less good than you would hope.

It looks worse for girls than for boys in the book, because the majority of boys at that age still have the goofiness and lack of insight that protects them from the worst of harm, and it looks worse for the more emotionally sophisticated "popular" girls than it does for the more achievement-oriented or still-childish girls, because this geekiness does seem to cast some bit of a protective veil over the worst of the environment.

I never realized how much poverty is a protection (probably not in a broken, culturally-trashed home so much, but in a relatively stable and involved family). One quote that will remain in my mind:

"One study found that someone between 12 and 15 spends, on average, 59 dollars a week, about one third on clothes, the bulk of the rest on entertainment. And that doesn't even count what their parents spend on them."
These are preteens. They don't have jobs. Where are they getting that money? Can I stand in line? I certainly don't have that much disposable income. That statistic seems really disturbing to me in itself. If it is true, that is a problem.

After reading this I am truly wondering again what "socialization" means to those who use a supposed lack of it as a criticism of homeschooling. I can see someone arguing that the kids get to show good qualities while going through this kiln-like rite of passage to the teenage and adult years. This is true -- you can't help being impressed by the signs of some fundamental decency in the kids in the books, even though it is beleaguered and often diverted at the source. I can see someone arguing that schools don't cause the problem -- they aren't the ones that let kids spend hours IMing gossip, shop at stores with names like Skinmarket and Piercing Pagoda, and buy foul rap music. True enough, too. But not quite the point, if you are argung that the benefits of the school environment outweigh the drawbacks or that there aren't really any drawbacks to start with. The echo chamber or ricochet effect is the point.


  1. After finishing Weapons of Mass Instruction last week, I decided that my new response to those who bring up the question of socialization will be, "oh, you mean assimilation?" because I think that is exactly what they mean whether they realize it or not.

    Obviously if they are standing there talking to my children and complimenting me on their behavior, they are being socialized, they just aren't being made into copies of all the other children who happened to be born the same year they were.

    The whole question of socialization continues to become more and more absurd to me.

    It isn't even a question of my *allowing* the behaviors you describe here, it is the horror that my children might some day *desire* those things. It is as if people think that the only thing parents can control is the activities they allow rather than ultimately influencing the formation of the child in what they will value.

  2. A modest income is a *huge* protection, because it gives a sense of reality to a teen's decisions. I remember Dr. Dobson saying that it's harder to refuse your child a toy than to tell him/her you can't afford it.

    Another problem is that kids lead such structured lives that parents think they need stuff to make up for it. Don't get me started...

    And yes, somehow I do think it's worse for girls. But then, I don't have a boy.

    Lindsay, I really like the "assimilation" idea. I think I'm going to use it!

  3. Interesting points. And that spending on kids thing starts way too early for it to have anything to do with children's desires to fit in. I observed it among F's peers when she was under 2.

    Which means parents are buying into that culture and then teaching it to their kids. By "blaming" it on media, other kids, etc. they are just not taking responsibility.

    I am fascinated by the glimpses you give of the protective characteristics of different groups. I've always found F. quite resilient and can see a bit where she fits. Might have to read this. Have already recommended to a friend with 2 girls this age (one still homeschooled, one now in school)

  4. Now that I've read your review and the teacher's, I realize what an emotional hold this subject *still* has on me, after, what, 31 years? I've struggled this year (and last) because I have a 14yo, and that was my hardest year growing up. Because she's homeschooled, my daughter's situation is much better than mine was, but even she's not immune to these same pressures.

    I just went and created a Goodreads account. Looks fun. Maybe I'll eventually figure out how to import my Library Thing file.

    JoVE, the spending thing does start early, but it isn't always consistent. And I remember facing a special pressure between 6-9 to the precursors of teen culture. We held the line, but half the time I felt isolated and thought I might be nuts. I guess it depends on what you're talking about, whether it's something that's merely materialistic, like American Girl dolls, or something that's sleezy as well, but I think that's when the desire to fit in starts.

  5. Great post and comments and thanks for the rec on the middle school book, checking my library for it now :)


I would love to hear your thoughts on this!