When I think back to my school years long ago, my stomach still knots up when I remember seventh grade. After moving to the neighborhood in sixth grade, I became friends with the most popular girl in school, instantly inheriting her friends as well.
I was part of the clique, always called, busy, more than happy. Sixth grade was still part of elementary school then, and we were top of the food chain.
But the following year, as we entered seventh grade and junior high, I was disposed of, no longer the new flavor of the month, left on the side of the road like refuse.
The popular girl's groupies were still attached to her, and because their leader no longer wanted me, their true resentment at my vaulting over them to the top of the dog pile finally spilled out. I had started junior high with what I had thought were a group of friends -- only to discover that I had been abruptly abandoned.
Thirty years later, my daughters experienced the same antics as they entered middle school.
The behavior of most sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders is well-documented. These 11-, 12- and 13-year-olds are not young children and not really teenagers, wanting independence and a sense of self, yet not having the maturity or knowledge to bring this to fruition. I equate this to high school football players who are the size of full grown men, yet incur injuries because they don't know how to play safely with their newfound power.
Generally speaking, seventh grade is the most difficult time for girls. They reach physical maturity before boys, yet they're riddled with insecurity.
The following three suggestions are fairly successful in helping children get through these rough years.
* Speak against no one. Everyone at school is just fine. Even if you don't like them, treat them as acquaintances.
* Save your secrets for your parents, not your friends -- that includes online and during phone conversations. No matter how good a friend someone is today, they may turn on you tomorrow and spill your confidences to the person you spoke against, all in the cause of elevating themselves higher.
* Make friends with many different groups, not just one. It is better to be part of four groups than top dog in one that may decide you have outlived your usefulness.
We parents must be sensitive to our children's confused feelings. We must take them seriously and help them to work it out themselves, getting involved only when a child show signs of fearfulness and hesitancy in attending school. Then we should seek a counselor's help before it gets worse. It will not go away if we ignore it.
Nancy Fisk Maletz, a psychotherapist, lives in Thousand Oaks and has three grown daughters who survived middle school.