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.