Tweens are all little monsters, right?

When I hear the words “middle school”, a certain part of me shudders. Amidst the vague recollections of science labs or choir concerts is the overriding memory that kids in middle school are just plain awful to each other. The pecking order, the mockery, the sneering looks, the constant mood swings and drama … the fear that if you do one thing wrong you’ll be branded as a loser for the year.

photo credit: gurl.com
photo credit: gurl.com

Was it really that bad?

 

My daughter, who I’ve home schooled since kindergarten, will now be entering the local public middle school, and she does so with some trepidation because of what she’s heard from neighborhood kids about how mean some kids can be. She’s afraid of being bullied even as her own response to the slightest criticism is to retaliate in forces times ten.

 

Much of the middle grade literature I’ve read in the last few years deals with this kid cruelty. In every single book, there is at least one jerk or jerkette who seems to make it a daily goal to antagonize the main character.

 

Why is this what sticks out? Are middle schoolers all complete monsters? Really?

photo credit: vulture.com
photo credit: vulture.com

The hugely popular series, Diary of a Wimpy Kid is brilliant on many levels for humor and relatability, but one thing author Jeff Kinney does is pure genius. He makes a jerk the protagonist. Greg Heffley is (in the words of his own best friend) “not a good friend”. The kid is completely self-absorbed and relates to the entire world with the intent of getting what he wants out of life—comfort, popularity, etc. The beauty of the “diary” format, is that we see how completely oblivious he is about the fact that he’s a jerk. We see his motivations (at least those of us readers who are not middle schoolers) as selfish, but ultimately very  human.

 

And so we root for Greg (except when he’s mean to Rowley—the rare face of the genuinely nice kid). Why? Because we can see both sides of the story. We see where he feels oppressed and where he shows ambition. We see where he feels embarrassed and where he finds triumph. We see where he feels longing and where he experiences fulfillment. These are emotions all of us can understand.

 

Yes, he fails to see the needs of others much, but that’ll come with age. In the meantime, we would do well to remember that tweens aren’t beasties. They’re just like you and me. Just … immature and self-centered about it. Developmental psychologists will tell you that’s pretty much par for the course.

 

What else is the norm? Idealism and a budding sense of justice. Competition and the desire to improve. Friendship and the need to connect with others. Independence and an emerging capacity to take on responsibility. Creativity and a seemingly limitless appetite for humor.

 

All-in-all, it’s an intriguing balance. One that makes for fun books and interesting kids. The future looks bright … as long as they can survive the 8th grade!

 


A shot B&WLia London’s books Magian High and The Gypsy Pearl both address bullying and the whole “mean kid” syndrome and how to rise above it by changing the way you look at people.

9 thoughts on “Tweens are all little monsters, right?

  1. Love this post, Lia! My oldest is entering middle school and I can see all of these traits in him. It’s a struggle for him sometimes and he falls into the habit of thinking only of himself, but this is par for the course at this age. I expect it. But he has moments of incredible kindness and shows the ability to compromise. I’m excited to see the human he’s becoming!

  2. Oh, so true. My son, who has been homeschooled since kindergarten, is entering the local high school this year because we didn’t want him to have to make the switch during the horrible years of middle school. Your post today is so relatable for PARENTS, lol. Love Wimpy Kid!

  3. The tug-of-war between wanting to establish your own identity and wanting to fit in creates impossible situations for kids (and sometimes adults!), which is why they act with the semblance of insanity at times 😉 Terrific post, Lia and I’m so glad my kids are well past that awkward, mixed-up stage!

  4. This is a great post. I haven’t read the Diary of A Wimpy Kid books–but maybe I should. I remember junior high being a lot worse than middle grade–but nowadays– kids “mature” more quickly and the bad behavior gets worse sooner–middle grade.

    Thankfully my kids’ schools have pretty strong anti-bullying programs–programs that actually empower kids to be proactively kind to their peers. I’m sure there is still bullying– but I’ve tried to teach my kids that everybody doesn’t have to like them to be “ok”. That finding a core group of friends –even 2 or 3 that are like-minded and enjoy similar interests is a great gift and all they need to “survive” school.

    So far they seem to sailing thru their school years without being overly burdened with tons of drama. (Whew! Because middle grade and junior high especially can be brutal.)

    I love the last 2 paragraphs–they wrap up this age beautifully. It is a fun age to write for– their sense of justice can be refreshing, frustrating and/ or very humorous. 🙂

    1. Sounds like your kids’ schools are great! But then … how will they ever be able to tell the horror stories to their kids some day? LOL

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