Any time we move to a new place, it takes time to find our way. What I mean by this is making friends is a lot like dating. Sometimes you know right away if you click with someone, while other times it takes a while for you to figure it out.
When we had kids in preschool, making friends was easier because the pool to draw from was bigger. Now, with kids in grades 1, 5, 8 and 11, meeting people at school is harder for me and it is also especially hard for our 8th and 11th grade sons. By middle school and high school, friendship circles are fully formed, and breaking in is not easy.
One thing I am finding that is different about the community in which we have been for going on eight months, is where you are from, what you do, who you know, and how much money you have, matters to some groups here more than I’ve ever seen; and the phenomenon does not end with the parents. (I must be clear that this does not apply to everyone and I’ve founds some great people/friends here.)
In the elementary school the divide does not seem to extend to the kids. Bob is the only visibly Western kid in his class, but he is fully accepted as one of the group. His closest friends are in other classes, but there is no animosity amongst any of the kids. It’s a sweet group. Harold has the most diverse class of any of our kids. There are at least six countries represented in his class of 19 first graders.
Middle school is an awful place pretty much anywhere you go, but I haven’t seen blatant racism like I’ve seen here, since I was in 1st grade and I heard one of my classmates repeating horribly offensive things about other races and religions. I was shocked by it then but I was stunned and sickened when it happened to my own child a few months ago.
I’m only now ready to write about it with a relatively level head, since my child, the target, is happily settled and has a few very good, trustworthy, loyal friends.
Parents of teens are likely aware of an app called “ask.fm.” If you haven’t heard of it, ask your child about it and be sure to keep an eye out for mood swings caused by this dreadful social network. For those who don’t know, ask.fm is a social media site that allows users to anonymously ask questions of other users. As of late, though, I have learned that people also use it as a cowardly way of cyber bullying other kids. They can be as cruel as they like, and no one knows who is behind the words.
I am grateful that I have a very open relationship with my boys, and that Dwight felt comfortable enough to show me a message that was sent to him via ask.fm. He texted a screen shot of the post soon after he received it. My heart dropped into my stomach when I read it:
This incident happened back in November. I let the administration know about it and they banned the app from the school during their internet safety seminar to the middle schoolers in January. Of course that was completely ineffective because it is absolutely unenforceable. The middle schoolers are forbidden from using mobile phones during school hours, thankfully. They cannot even use them during lunch or free periods, but, as any parent of teens knows, social media is ever present in our kids’ lives.
The only way I see to combat the negative effects is to make sure our kids know they can tell us anything and that we will be open and not judge them, and then help them come up with a solution without us telling them what to do. If we give our kids the chance to come up with a way to solve their problems, they learn an important skill that will serve them well into their future. Jumping in to fix things for our children is a temporary fix and can do more harm than good by making them think they can’t fix them on their own.
Dwight is in a small elective class of about 18 kids. He’s the only American in the class and while kids can choose to sit anywhere, there is one desk empty in every direction from his desk every day. He has a good sense of humor about it; he tries to throw off the other kids by changing where he sits sometimes, but the other kids don’t change their ways. He comes home from school on the days he has this class and tells me how it went. He laughs, but I can see it bothers him.
I know it is a good lesson; he clearly sees what it is like to be a minority. But he was already a kindhearted, empathetic child, and endured religion based bullying back in the U.S., so this is not a lesson he needed to learn… again. What it has done, is make his friendships with his two closest friends stronger very quickly. They have friends from many different ethnic, religious and financial backgrounds, to be sure, but they are guarded with people they don’t know well.
Middle school is a minefield wherever it is in the world. If it wasn’t this complication, it would be something else, I am sure. I am eager to see how it turns out next year, when he enters high school and his next younger brother enters the middle school battleground.