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Peer Rejection... Almost Bullying

by Charlotte Riggle

I think 7th and 8th grade are the years when peer problems are at their absolute worst, for two reasons. First, for what appear to me to be developmental reasons, kids in that age range appear to be offended and threatened by anything that makes anyone different. I think their work at trying to figure out who they really are makes others -- especially those who seem to have a better grip on their own "self" -- a threat. And your daughter's talent makes her different, and threatening. Kids this age retaliate against this sort of threat by social nastiness. The second reason the peer problems are worse at this age is the flip side of the first one -- because kids are trying to work out who they are, they are exquisitely sensitive to anything that even looks like peer rejection. Things that wouldn't have bugged them two years ago, and won't matter to them three years from now, are terribly painful at this age.

Anyway, here are some things I've told my kids when they were having peer problems.

First, I have explained the developmental nature of peer nastiness. It's a stage that all kids go through. You won't be junior-high-aged forever. It will get better. Eventually, you will have friends that love you and appreciate you and admire you for your gifts, who accept you and tolerate you in spite of your oddities, and may even find your quirks charming. But that time is not now. Developmentally, your peers are not capable of that response. It's not about you. It's about growing up.

Second, I have explained, explicitly, that everyone else feels the same way. Maybe more so or less so, but since this is developmental, no one is immune to it. The reason it seems that some are immune to it is that you hear and feel every bit of nastiness directed at you. But that cool boy -- you're only with him an hour or two a day, so you only have the opportunity to hear a tiny portion of the nastiness that is directed at him. He may get less nastiness than you do -- but it's more likely that you just don't hear all the nastiness he gets. It's a difference in point of view.

Third, I have explained to them that there is something about junior high age where people get "cool points" for being nasty to people who are below them on the social scale. However, this is a very temporary situation, and the people who are collecting cool points now for nastiness will find out very soon (by 10th or 11th grade, usually) that they will lose cool points in a major way for the same behavior. They will be shocked when that starts happening, and they will have trouble adjusting their behavior for the new social reality. Some of them will never recover from the change. They'll go from being top of the heap in 8th grade to the bottom in 12th. Far better not to indulge in nastiness at all -- it can be a difficult behavior to unlearn.

These ideas seem to help my kids deal with the nastiness that occurs. It doesn't take all the sting out of snubs, of course. But it gives them a way to explain the snubs to themselves that maintains their self-esteem. It's not, "she's snubbing me because I'm a dork," it's "she's snubbing me because I'm different, and she's not mature enough to deal with that yet."

It also helps deal with the dumbing down issue, or hiding talent, or whatever. You can hide your talent -- but that's not going to change the nature of junior high kids. If you weren't getting snubbed for being good at music, you would still be getting snubbed for something. And since that's the case, and since music gives you so much joy, you might as well accept the snubs for this, knowing that, in a couple of years, the people who were snubbing you will have grown up enough to deal with it.

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