A couple years ago I was dropping something off at school and I happened to be there at dismissal time. The 5th graders are the crossing guards and I walked past a couple of them just behind some 8th grade boys. “Ugh, 8th graders!” one crossing guard said under his breath. I thought it was funny and mentioned it the teacher next to me. She smiled and commented that 8th graders are still little kids…in big bodies.
What a great understanding! My own 8th grader is wrapping up his year, focused on all things summer, and then high school. I think about his variety of friends and how he spends time with them. They play and speak Pokémon. They watch funny YouTube videos created by kids their own age. They get on the computer and compete in online games with kids around the world. They still play soccer and basketball and laugh about passing gas.
My son is a kid who comes across as pretty laid back. He has an easy smile that’s covered in braces, and he takes every opportunity to infect people with it. Being funny is important when you’re a little kid in a big body.
Eighth grade was a very long time ago for me. I was conscious about my appearance and still remember the humiliation when Mr. Groene called me out in class to talk about my t-shirt. My mom had ordered it saving labels from Charmin toilet paper. Mr. Whipple was on the t-shirt and it said “Don’t squeeze the Charmin, squeeze me instead.” Oh my gosh! I was a dork. But I was a small town dork in a safe community with a supportive family. And even though I still wear the scars from Mr. Groene and Mom’s couponing, they’re faded now. Mostly.
Today’s 8th graders face a whole different set of pressures, and with less ammunition sometimes. When I was growing up, we were adults at 18. When I packed up for college, I only came home that first summer. Now science says your brain isn’t fully mature until you’re 26. Kids come home all the time, because of economics and emotions.
Think about the contradiction our kids live in. The world is both more safe and more dangerous at the same time. We protect and endanger them. Every time they get in the car, since birth, they’re programmed to click the seat belt. Extra air bags are all around if they’re needed. But sometimes, even in our town, people bring guns to school or to the mall and shoot strangers.
That contradiction happens both physically and emotionally. And that laid back kid with braces may have a lot more on his mind than you think. I remember seeing a video one time that highlighted the people that you walked past in a normal day, and everything that was on their minds. It showed the crosses they carry in life that you’d never know unless you took a lot of time to get to know them. And even then, many hide the crosses. I think it’s that way with 8th graders too.
And they do the best with what they have, these little kids in their big bodies.