The friends you keep determine the trouble you meet
For the a middle schooler, the need to be liked and accepted by a small group of “best friends” can seem like the most important thing in the world . Thats why the power and popularity of cliques is the greatest during middle school. Likewise, a sudden falling out with the group — one moment “in” and “out” the next moment; best friends on Friday, bitter enemies on Wednesday — can cause enormous pain and emotional upset.
~ Charlene Giannetti and Margaret Sagaresse,
The Roller Coaster Years: Raising Children Through the Maddening, Yet Magical Middle School Years, 1997
Gather a group of students together and ask them this question, “What is the number one reason people either quit a job or get fired?” You’ll hear some interesting answers but seldom does anyone know the correct answer. The correct response is, “Because they can’t get along with others.” For our children to succeed in life they need to finish school and master a few work skills. But the most important skill they’ll need is the ability to get along with their supervisors, co-workers, neighbors, friends, relatives, and family members. Parents and teachers needs to help young people master proper social and relationship skills before they enter the world of work.
Children today, especially in middle school, focus so much of their time and energy on peer issues. They face teasing, bullying, gossiping, and rudeness almost every day at school. By late elementary school and into middle school children often drift into small groups, or cliques. They identify these cliques with names such as the Jocks, Partiers, Populars, Nerds, Skateboarders, Druggies, and Wannabees. For many students it is extremely important to be in one of these group for two reasons. First of all, the clique provides member with a small group of friends with similar values and interests. Secondly, a clique provides each member a form of security or protection against other “different” groups of students.
Sociologists Patricia and Pete Adler, in their book, Peer Power: Preadolescent Culture and Identity, defined four categories of children’s peer groups. The Popular Clique is the cool group, structured along a hierarchy with the leader having great power. This group often makes up half of the school population. The Wannabees, which make up ten percent of the kids, hover around and mimic the popular set. Middle Friendship Circles involve small groups of about 5-15 loyal friends. The circles often include a few subgroups. This peer group involves about forty percent of the school. Finally there are the Nerds, Drifters, Dweebs, and Loners. These students are isolated with few friends. They comprise a very small percentage of students.
- At a young age encourage your children to interact with children of different races, religions, cultures, and socio-economics levels. Invite their friends into your house.
- Adults must model proper social skills.
- Teach children basic conflict resolution skills
- Tell children if they have a problem with another child, sit and talk. Remind them of the Native American saying, “Standing is confrontation, sittings is conversation.”
- Empathise. Let your children know that you are aware of how difficult peer relations can be at times. Say, “I’m sorry. I know it hurts.”
- Get children away from the television. Send them outdoors to play with other children. Outside is a good laboratory for learning “getting along” skills. They can’t learn social skills sitting in front of the television or computer.
- Be a good listener. Most of the time when children are venting, they don’t want advice, they just want us to truly listen.
- Teach children kindness. Just because someone is rude to them, they shouldn’t return the rudeness. Revenge doesn’t work!
- When your child tells you about a peer problem, place much of the responsibility back on the child by saying, “What are you going to do about it?”
- Teach children how to control their emotions. Children who are easily angered or who cry in front of their peers are more apt to get teased or ignored.
- Tell your child the cold but true fact, “Not everyone is going to like you.”
- Remind your child your child to carefully monitor who he or she “hangs out” with. If others are being rude, it is ok walk away.
- Tell your child not to believe everything they hear their classmates say. Adolescents love to gossip, and much of what they say is exaggerated.
- Do your best to let your child handle their own problems. Do not contact the school until you they have done their best they could do to solve the problem on their own.
- Be patient! Your adolescent will have numerous mood swings. One day Luke is upbeat and telling you about his “neat” friends. The next day he may be irritable and mumble, “I don’t have any true friends!”
- Parents, even through the adolescent years, need to develop a close bond/ connectedness with their children. Teen expert, Jay McGraw notes, “When there is no family connection, teens look outside the family for a group identity, support, esteem, validation, and friendships.”
- In the classroom teachers can encourage group work and cooperative which allow children to interactive and socialize.
- Parents should encourage their children to get involved in clubs, sports and other activities that bring children of all races and cultures together. A good coach or club leader can be great teachers of relationship skills.