In the midst of an altercation with your 13/14 year old daughter about what to wear and what party she cannot go to, does it ever occur to you that this is an irrational conversation? When a boy wearing tragically holey jeans, with long stringy hair that comes up to the bottom of his gluteus maximus, appears at the door to call on your daughter, do you feel that you are in the midst of some play written by Sartre, where anything that you do is wrong?
Why is it that your daughter is not more like Gidget, Anette Funicello, or the Brady Girls that you have seen growing up or on the Nick channel? Let me tell you a little secret, all of those aforementioned cardboard girls, including Hannah Montana and ICarly, do not exist in this world. The majority of eighth grade girls are flakey, high strung, unable to listen to anything that an adult says and permanently attached to either iphones, cell phones, ds’s, ipods, or superglued to their friends, who are also flakey.
How do I know all of these things? I was a junior high teacher for a number of years and a junior high principal for five. Let me tell you that if you get one of these young ladies in a quiet moment, they will tell you that you are correct. That, in fact, most of her classmates are off the deep end or are fast approaching the twelve foot end of the pool.
This is not to excuse all behaviors of that age cohort. This is a time when young ladies are in the midst of their glandular revolutions, their hormonal civil wars, and their near rapprochement with womanhood. Their pre adolescent education is often talked about with parents and displayed in kind of disjointed way in school. This is the description of one of my grandchildren of how they learned sex education in the fourth grade. “ Some lady and some man came in and took the boys into one room and the girls into another.When we got there he/she asked us if we knew anything about how the human reproductive system worked. Most people raised their hands and said that they did. With that, a video was put on and we watched for about 20 minutes. There a whole bunch of questions. The answers were really weird. After the period was over most of us thought that the teacher was crazy.”
Fast forward to eighth grade when a girl, properly educated to await the onset of her menses and changes in her body, comes a cropper of the actual events. In one of my most difficult conferences with a mother whose daughter was absent 3 out of every four weeks of the month, she said, “ Her period is so bad that she is bed ridden for 3 weeks.” When I asked her if she had seen a doctor, she told me that it was the same way for her, when she was that age.
Events for girls of that age are entangled with their changes. Boys, are not yet fully developed, according to the National Institute of Health, in the section of the brain that we might call maturity ( actually the organization part of the brain). Boys tend to catch up in their late teens and early twenties. If you have seen the vast differences between boys and girls in eighth grade, you will know of what I am saying.
Girls are aware, boys are not. In a classic story, that is actually a happening, I was teaching history to eighth graders at Thomas Williams Junior High School in Cheltenham. At the beginning of the second period, a gaggle of girls ( I am aware that the word applies to geese, but it serves so well here), rushed up to my desk and said, “Something terrible happened in Mr. Jones science class first period.” What was it” I said, knowing full well that Mr. Jones was known as “Sleepy Jim,.” “ Well, Henry was sitting in the back of the room doing something like masturbating.” My mind said hold smoke, my mouth said, “What do mean doing something like masturbating ( an equally stupid thing to say)?” “ He was reaching into his pants and masturbating,” they all chorused. I replied, keeping my tongue from hanging out of my mouth, “ I will take care of the situation.
I did take care of it and began to start the lesson when Henry came in late and just kind of ambled into his seat. For the rest of the year, I kept an eye out on Henry and did not notice him doing anything untoward.
It appears that at this age, kids who are not satisfied with their gender, tend to become either reclusive or exhibit other non-standard tendencies ( not a medical diagnosis). Lorraine was just such a young lady. She was a great athlete, built as squarely as a kid could be and spoke in a low contralto voice. She was friendly to me and I kind of kept on eye out for any problems that she might have. Our guidance counselor at Kutztown Junior High School was also aware of her.
One day, I was walking behind Lorraine in the hallway, and wanted to talk to her about some sort of extra curricular program she was involved with. I tapped her on the shoulder, expecting that she would turn around to see who it was. That is not at all what she did. She grabbed my arm and threw me completely over her shoulder so that I landed on my feet in front of her. I was then staring at her in the face when she said, “Oh hi Mr. Hillman, didn’t know it was you.”
I have already mentioned the 8th grade girl who put a tongue in John Rohrbach’s ear. By the end of eighth grade and the beginning of ninth grade, girls start to lose at arm wrestling, basketball and racing, to the boys. They seem to see their development kind of slow down, although many of them keep on growing physically. They also stop talking to me. This occurs mostly in 9th grade. There is some code that says, “ Don’t talk to the man who saw you when you were all in tatters.” By the time the end of 11th grade rolls around, I am back in their good graces and some of them even stay in touch.
Yes, there are always mean girls who do bad things to each other. That does not seem to have changed, witness girl’s who bully. However, the dictates of nature prevail most of the time and they are the joyous people they will become after this tumultuous time. Carol and I picked them up when they went to college, in our two scholarship programs and beyond and they have become wonderful young women.