Perspective & Paradigms

I had dinner with a new friend the other night. She has been a friend to me in several ways this year, but we actually met for the first time that night. She is a mom to three boys between the ages of 13 and 18. And they are all neurotypical.

We talked about the apparent lack of student support for The Boy and his friend in the marching band. She carefully and respectfully defended kids like her son who are more than happy to interact with a peer on the spectrum at home, but not necessarily at school, where peer pressure can be a hard thing for any kid to overcome. She said in middle school, everyone is trying to fit in, and in high school, everyone is trying to get out.

After 17 years teaching at both levels, I get that.

But to my ears, it rang as old-fashioned as the tired phrase, “Boys will be boys.”

Of course, I understand and fully believe how difficult it can be for middle school-aged children to look beyond themselves to see others who need help. It’s Child Psychology 101 – at that age, as you may remember, they see themselves as the center of their own universe. Remember thinking everyone would laugh at you for that zit on the end of your nose, or the bad haircut, or the crazy sweater your aunt bought you? But they really didn’t (unless they were mean kids, anyway), because they were too busy worrying about their own zits, and haircuts, and sweaters. Indeed, some people never grow out of this psychological stage, but that’s another post.

Most of us do grow up, and realize it’s in the caring for others that we find ourselves.

And what we need to realize is that our kids need assistance in growing up and out of this psychological stage. Yes, it’s normal, but we don’t want them to stay there. Just as we taught them to walk and tie their shoes, we need to teach them to be their own person. We as parents need to help them understand that “different” is not inherently bad, and we need to expose them to “different”, whether it be people, foods, cultures, or ideologies. Seeing and learning about differences is how we figure out and find peace with ourselves. What a gift it is to learn that we are not alone in our weirdness! Who wouldn’t want to help their children find that awareness??

Yes, it’s hard for typical middle schoolers to break out of their comfort zone and befriend someone perceived as different in front of other middle schoolers. But what a teachable moment, rife with lessons! Pick up the baton, parents, and show them the way.

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It’s OK to be Offended

It’s funny how much our culture is influenced by the young. It’s probably our obsession with youth and inability to age gracefully, but whatever the youngsters are into is what you’ll see on TV, in the stores, and in the comment section of anything you read.

Have you seen the term “butthurt”? Yeah, me too. I hate that term. It’s part of this prevailing attitude (thank you, hipsters) that if you get upset or heaven forbid, offended, you are part of the problem. “Everyone is so sensitive these days”. “Everyone has to be so politically correct”. “If you don’t like it, just keep scrolling,” they say.

Well, I’m here to tell you that it’s ok to be offended. It’s ok to be upset when someone says something mean or crass, or that is derogatory to someone else. It means you have a strong sense of values, and that you are brave enough to speak up either for yourself or for others who are not able to stand up for themselves.

Do you need to fight every battle? No. That would get overwhelming. As the great Mama Fry from Autism with a Side of Fries says in her latest post, “I’d rather on doing something else than having the same exact fight again and again.” She is referring to a troll who is continually poking the bear to get a rise out of the autism community, and I wholeheartedly agree with her. There are times when people do this crap for attention, and because they think it’s funny to see a bunch of people to get pissed off. This world clearly needs more therapy.

But don’t be bullied into thinking that you shouldn’t give your opinion, especially when people are being mean or derogatory. Don’t be mocked for reacting negatively to bad stuff. We need to stand up to that or it becomes commonplace, and we lose our values in this society. I’m not sure how it got to be so cool to not care about a damn thing or anyone’s feelings but your own, but I’m done with that attitude.

Besides, I’ve never been cool, so why start now.

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