Sunday, November 25, 2007

A Continuation of Thought

My daughter is 12 years old and in 7th grade in middle school. Now, for those of you who teach in a middle school or teach 12, 13, 14 year olds, I give you credit. This is not a job I would ever want. Too many hormones, too many concerns about friendships, groups, fitting in. I have enough to deal with, with just my own child at home.

You see, Ali agonizes over her social network: who is her friend today, who will be friends tomorrow, what boy likes her now, what if no boy likes her, what group should she hang with, what if no group wants her hanging out with them, and, mostly, how does she stay true to herself when fitting in is the ultimate goal.

Sometimes I want to point out that the person she is having a sleepover with is the same person who told her two days ago that they are no longer friends. I want to teach her the difference between close, sharing secret friends and hanging at the mall friends. I really want to tell her to stop focusing on friends and pay more attention in school (although I did tell her that getting a B in chorus due to being too talkative was totally unacceptable!). I try hard to remember that Chip Wood, in his parent/teacher resource Yardsticks, does say that 12 year olds find their "peers more important than teachers." In fact, he says, "Twelve's greatest need is to be with their friends. Teachers and parents take a backseat..."

And all this dealing with the creation of friendships, makes me think even more carefully about how I deal with the creation of friendships. Jen Wagner's post about twitter started my thinking again. I guess I wasn't the only one since, to date, her post has 41 comments.

I think, sometimes, that I am stuck at 12. Sometimes I worry about friendships, too. Sometimes I get concerned that I am closer to someone than they wish to be with me. Sometimes it's the other way around and I feel uncomfortable around certain people. Sometimes I find it hard to fit in, missing the rules of engagement for a particular group. And, sometimes, like my daughter, I feel like a "poser" changing who I really am just to get along.

So who am I really? I am not someone who makes friends easily. I demand a great deal of my friends and, in turn, demand a great deal of myself as a friend. I have very few people in my life that I call close friends. In fact, my BFF (still feeling like a 12 year old) happens to be the person I live with, which is so convenient. I keep people at a distance and, while I will share what some people consider quite intimate details about my life, the real sharing happens only between me and my husband. No one else really knows who I am.

Now, having said all that, this doesn't mean that I am a hermit, living in my house, never dealing with people. I go out to lunch with a variety of colleagues each day, I attend parties, get together with other couples, and say hello to anyone and everyone I am remotely connected to. (In fact, this embarrasses my daughter greatly, although most of what I do these days embarrasses my daughter.)

The difference, I suppose, is the connections I have with all of these people. I have friends to talk about children with, friends to talk about husbands with, friends to gossip with, friends to commisserate with, friends to laugh with and cry with and go to the movies with. The closeness varies from friend to friend. Rarely do we misunderstand the closeness. This is, I believe, an understanding we learn that my daughter is still struggling with. How close is your friend? Can you be friends with someone you aren't really that close with?

On to the dictionary. According to wikipedia, friendship "denotes co-operative and supportive behavior between two or more humans." Hmmm. Doesn't say much about closeness. Can you have cooperative and supportive behavior with the friend you hang out at the mall with? Sure, if the cooperation is about where to shop and the support is how much to spend. Can you have cooperative and supportive behavior with your lunch buddies? The teacher next door? Your child (okay that went too far...there is little that is cooperative and supportive about a middle school child).

And back we come to Jen's post, "140 characters does not a friend make." As Jen asks so eloquently, "Perhaps it is just me — but I feel that I have created “friends” in the twitter environment — but can that be true? Can you know someone from 140 characters of text? Can you truly read between the lines of a private direct message? Can you get to know someone who is perhaps carefully choosing each word? "

So can you be friends with someone you meet in Twitter? Well, does that person fit the "cooperative and supportive behavior" rule?

Here are some posts from just the past two days. Some very cooperative and supportive behavior. Now granted, I was looking for these. I culled them from posts about dinner time, football games, professional development work, planning ideas, and more. But if I have someone who continually sends me supportive and cooperative twits, then perhaps I have made a twitter friend. Will I tell all my secrets to this friend? No. At least not until we've spoken in chat rooms, talked on the phone and in Skype, passed each other in blogs, and...well, you get the idea. Do we need to meet face to face? I don't think so but it sure would make the friendship seem so much more special.

So thank you to my twitter friends for being supportive and cooperative. And, I am sorry to anyone whose boundaries I overstepped. And, to all my online friends who I hope to meet face to face someday...I owe you all a big hug and maybe even a secret or two.


Susan said...

Lisa - I think that you've hit an important point, which is that there are different degrees of friendship. I consider many people from Twitter as friends of one sort or another, but no, I would not share all my secrets with any of my Twitter friends. Or my RL friend (save my husband) either. :)
I have to tell you that, as a middle school teacher myself, the more I teach MS, the more I belive that it is simply an amplified version of RL. Yes, there is much more drama (hence, amplified), but the same fears and hopes that they are going through are the same that we are going through. I still am concerned (to an extent) with fitting in while being true to myself. Interesting, isn't it?
Thanks for the continuation of thought. And thanks for sharing your thoughts on Twitter!

JenWagner said...

Thank you for continuing the conversation -- and I have to agree, that at times, I feel that I am stuck at 12 years old too.

Do they like me? Was that comment stupid? What should I wear? Does my hair look stupid? Why aren't they answering? What did I do wrong?

LOL, and then I realize the major word is ME - and then it is time to get a grip, smile, and grow up a bit.

This blog post seems to have taken us on a journey, hasn't it?

Thank you for adding such good thoughts to it.


Colleen said...

Wow, Lisa! You wrote a very thoughtful post.

I am so amazed by the level of discussion that has come from Jen's post about Twitter. It has gone off in several different directions but your post brings it back to its original premise, what makes a person a friend.

I don't measure friendship by the number of secrets I share. However, I do think there is a correlation between the amount of information you share with someone and the depth of that relationship. Eventually, though, it reaches a plateau and sharing personal information (in the form of secrets) no longer deepens the relationship. At that point, things such as trust, level of support, etc. continue to strengthen the friendship.

While you can't accomplish all that on Twitter, I do think Twitter can be the starting point for a variety of relationships. 140characters are enough to reveal traits such as intelligence, wit, thoughtfulness, and generosity, to name a few. That can be enough to want to know more. The next steps -skype, IM, email, and, eventually, f2f meetings - are what determine the direction and extent of the relationship.

Moturoa said...

When I was on leave last term caring for my elderly mother and confined to life on crutches there myself for while my on line contacts kept me in touch with the world outside. I helped me feel connected and still part of what was going on outside my immediate dire situation.

My 'virtual' friends didn't come round and cook tea or mow the lawn but they were still very valuable for me to help keep my level.

Cheers, Lisa, for your honesty.


lnitsche said...

Your post struck home for me. One reason perhaps, could be the memory jog of raising a 12 year old daughter. Mine is now 21, we've had our share of friendship and boyfriend worries and of course I am still worry. Don't think I'll ever be out of that job. But, you also strike upon another significant point, the common humanity of all of us- Our common deep desire and need to belong and as a result our often conflicting concerns, echoed by both Susan and Jen, of fitting in, of being accepted.
Jen's post and resulting comments and related blog posts have also played in my mind for days. I've thought about twitter, our network and what is it about all of it that has stirred my spirit. In my perspective there is an honesty and genuineness about the network that is hard to find in such constant abundance anywhere else. It is a group that loves playing in the sandbox and is not at all shy about sharing when there are mistakes and failures. It is a safe place to share because they know that others are there to support, not condemn, to offer help, not criticisms. Daily, the network cheers other members on and revels in another's successes. They share their newly learned knowledge and love of learning with abandon. These are qualities I hope for in a friend. How could I not like them?

NJTechTeacher said...

It's good to hear all the various reflections based on Jen's post. You were one of the first people who reached out to me with Twitter. The network I am creating is taking my teaching to a whole new level and it's wonderful.

I wholeheartedly agree that there are various levels of friendship. My husband is also my best friend. I have friends from grammar school I see once a year, but we share a connection all the same.

The people I am connecting with on Twitter and via blogs are gaining a friendship level of colleagues at work. As my working relationships through online projects develop, so will the levels of friendship.

I look forward to eventually connecting f2f with the fine people in the edublogsphere. Until then, I'm enjoying expanding my connections online. Thanks for continuing the conversation and inviting me into your world.