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A son, his folks, and a new era
Time for middle school, and what a can of worms that could be

RICHARD AMRHINE
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Date published: 8/20/2006

By RICHARD AMRHINE

MY SON BEGINS middle school this week, and he says he's ready--even for the hour-earlier arrival of the school bus. As far as handling the rest of the adjustment--the academic and social aspects--I guess we'll see.

But I do share his confidence. If anybody can deal with this critical period in the growing-up experience, I think he can.

I believe he's ready not just because of the upbringing my wife and I have provided over the past 11 years, but because of the person he is turning out to be. In other words, we've handed him the ball, and he is already off and running with it.

Though he can exhibit the "contradictory behavior" that experts refer to among children in his age group, it is how that behavior is manifested among his classmates and peers that is of greater concern to me (and a lot of other parents). By the time they have reached middle school age, these kids have developed distinct lifestyles. They have different levels of knowledge about "things." And they've assembled varying estimates of their own self-worth, which has a lot to do with how well they will adjust.

Richard W. Riley, a former U.S. secretary of education in the Clinton administration, has put it this way: "The young people in our nation's middle schools are a wonderful handful, eager to define themselves in some individualized way and, at the same time, are anxious to be part of the group mentality that defines everything that is popular."

Talk about trying to be all things to all people. There are plenty of adults out there who have yet to find a middle ground in that tug-of-war.

Patti Kinney, a middle school teacher in Oregon and current president of the National Middle School Association, notes the unfortunate portrayal of young adolescents in the media as "rude, self-centered, and uncaring," and as being "brain dead, moody, or hormones on wheels."

But that, she says, reflects only the dark side of the rapid physical and emotional changes that occur as they test the limits of behavior and independence. "[F]or those reasons they can be contradictory at times--confused or confident, awkward or articulate, passive or passionate."


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