Middle School Culture Shock
Ten years old sounds so very young, doesn’t it? But it’s very nearly middle school, and that’s a whole new world. In today’s NY Times, Lawrence Downes writes:
Itâ€™s hard to write this without sounding like a prig. But itâ€™s just as hard to erase the images that planted the idea for this essay, so here goes. The scene is a middle school auditorium, where girls in teams of three or four are bopping to pop songs at a student talent show. Not bopping, actually, but doing elaborately choreographed re-creations of music videos, in tiny skirts or tight shorts, with bare bellies, rouged cheeks and glittery eyes.
They writhe and strut, shake their bottoms, splay their legs, thrust their chests out and in and out again. Some straddle empty chairs, like lap dancers without laps. They donâ€™t smile much. Their faces are locked from grim exertion, from all that leaping up and lying down without poles to hold onto. â€œDonâ€™t stop donâ€™t stop,â€? sings Janet Jackson, all whispery. â€œJerk it like youâ€™re making it choke. …Ohh. Iâ€™m so stimulated. Feel so X-rated.â€? The girls spend a lot of time lying on the floor. They are in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades.
I hear ya, Lawrence. It’s a shocker…
As each routine ends, parents and siblings cheer, whistle and applaud. I just sit there, not fully comprehending. Itâ€™s my first suburban Long Island middle school talent show. Iâ€™m with my daughter, who is 10 and hadnâ€™t warned me. Iâ€™m not sure what I had expected, but it wasnâ€™t this. It was something different. Something younger. Something that didnâ€™t make the girls look so … one-dimensional.
I absolutely share this parent’s emotions. These are our babies, and it’s a real stomach-churner to watch them dance this way, or listen to a lot of their music.
But I’m not sure what such displays mean, or even that they mean anything… because I remember the middle school ages well, and my own parents’ reactions to the way we danced. Were they as horrified as Lawrence Downes is? Or as I sometimes am?
I bet they were.
Don’t get me wrong; I am appalled by the lyrics in the songs kids are listening to now. Long before my daughter had the slightest clue what the words in certain songs meant, we started talking about what was “appropriate” to listen to, and what was not. In fact, starting in about third grade, that was my catch-all excuse for changing the radio station: “That song’s not appropriate, peanut.“
It worked for a couple of years… right up until she wanted to know exactly why not. When it was explained, she reacted as I would have at the same age: “Ewwwwwww…..” — a response both gratifying, and illuminating.
Even though today’s kids are exposed early, and often, to sexualized images, words, and content, they are, in fact, still kids. Their understanding of these things is superficial at best — limited by cognitive development, socialization, and environmental modeling. Of course, knowing that doesn’t mean we have to like it, or that we should simply accept it without comment or dialogue.
I think, unfortunately, that we are going through exactly what our parents went through — something my mother is no doubt enjoying fully.