We are linking up to Yeah Write Me this week. Head on over there to read some great writing and support a community of writers.
Tribes are a big part of Planet Teen © . Your friends, your buds, your posse—If you are a teen, this core group can make or break your day. Most of the time, things are peaceful, sometimes less so. Here’s our take on maintaining your sanity when the tribe is rocky.
Ellen- If you have a teen or a tween, it feels like “PEER PRESSURE!” screams from every poster, magazine, and After School Special. Oh wait, After School Specials were my generation.
Erin-All of us of a certain age remember them—we had five channels and no remote. If you were a kid allowed to watch TV, you were tuning into such gems as My Mom’s Having A Baby—live birth and everything (should have probably taken notes or something) and Rookie of the Year (girls are great at sports too–who knew?)
Ellen- Remember “Schoolboy Father,” where Rob Lowe lobbies to have custody of his baby even though he’s 16?
Erin- What’s not to love? Anyway, these specials didn’t just aim to entertain, they had loftier goals—they wanted to educate us on some of the dangers of adolescence.
Peer pressure figured in a lot of them. Apparently, friends were the real wolves in the forest. The ones with their sheep’s clothing sliding off in their not-so-subtle attempts to ruin your life.
Ellen- But in a rare turn, I’m going to look at the brighter side of things. Peer is not the bad word here. Peers can also provide wonderful support and encouragement.
Erin- Unfortunately, there is no way to order a “well-adjusted-fun-sweet-tempered-best-bud-for-your-kid” on the internet.
Erin- But you really are looking for more than “Hey, I’m a kid, you’re a kid” when trying to find a peer group that works for your kids.
Ellen- Now don’t get crazy ideas in your head about interviews and DNA samples. Your child has always got to have freedom in choosing his or her own friends.
Erin- But you know what they don’t have a choice over? Their birth year. For no other reason than when they were popped out into this world, they are stuck with their birth cohort at school. In some schools, this group could be together for their entire K -12 lives.
Ellen- For some this could be the most comfortable fit in the world.
Erin – For others, the fit could be as awkward as OJ trying to squeeze his meaty paw into that glove.
Ellen- But while choosing your child’s friends is not something you should try to do or face dire consequences, what if you gave them more choices?
I have a phrase that I have coined, “Don’t Have All of Your Friends in One Basket.” Get it? A play off of the idiom, “Don’t Place All Your Eggs in One Basket.” I know, not a huge stretch, but focus on the wisdom of it, not my creativity.
Erin- If I had any useful “Little House on the Prairie” skills, I would cross-stitch that sucker onto a dishtowel—that’s how genius this is! When kids are hanging together all the time, like in an elementary school classroom, nerves are bound to be frayed and cliques are bound to be formed. And you pray it won’t happen, but at some point your child might end up odd man out—kicked out of the basket.
Ellen- You know how you temper the angst? Move those kids around. Shake it up and create different baskets to land in. Through the grace of Lady Luck, I have nurtured and encouraged various circles of friends for my girls.
Erin- It’s like dosey-doe-ing your way through the square dance of life—switching partners just when things start to get a little ugly. I have nurtured such dance moves in my own crew, and we are all much happier for it.
Ellen- Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good. We didn’t start out with this strategy—it just kind of grew. But when Middle School reared its ugly head, we realized what a special thing our kids had.
Erin- Sixth grade was an ugly beast for Biddie. Dear sweet girls who had been close friends morphed into something else entirely. Our perfect fit was off, and school became a painful, ugly place.
Biddie was ready to cut the girls out. But we have a small school, it really did just look like hormones run amok (I never for one minute thought the girls were intentionally hurting her), and now was the time to learn how to deal with difficult people. Ellen shared her “Don’t Poop In Your Own Den” maxim, and we took it to heart. We also took a break.
Ellen – In case you are just joining us, “Don’t Poop In Your Own Den,” means not to cause a stink in a place where you have to stay. Just like Ross and Rachel you can take a break without both sides knowing, but unlike in “Friends,” it can be a good thing—the best thing even.
Erin – I asked Biddie, “Listen, who is not involved with the drama?” She told me about studious, quiet Abby who read during lunch.
“Well, girlie, Abby just became your new best friend.”
Biddie took a break from the school girl drama with a series of great books (Highly recommend The Penderwick books and The Lightning Thief series), and a quiet non-drama buddy to sit with at lunch. She focused her middle school friend energy (which is limitless) on her neighborhood friends, Ellen’s girls and their associated posse, and her track buddies.
No more sleepovers with school friends for a whole semester. No more afterschool time with them either. I keep hearing Ross from Friends voice, “WE WERE ON A BREAK.”
And you know what? After a spring and a summer laying low, by the time we reconvened for 7th grade in the fall, all had settled and life has been drama-free. We know we were lucky. We are also pretty darn happy.
Ellen- So I guess we would like to help you tweak your luck. If you have young kids, you are primed for this advice.
Erin- And even if you have older kids, it’s really never too late to put this in action. Even if these “baskets” start when the kids are young, they are constantly morphing and shifting.
Ellen- One of the most important groups in our lives is the “Baby Friends.” These are a group of kids from our original playgroup. And I use the term “original” loosely. If the Bacholerette is a 5 on the pickiness scale of 10 (being so generous with this), then I am probably a 15.
Erin- I know not of this scale you speak of. I have zero radar and am not picky in the least. This brings its own issues sometimes, but I’ll try to stay focused.
Ellen- The playgroup members shifted around quite a bit in the beginning until the moms found a good fit.
Yes, we based it more on the moms than the kids. The kids were two—they didn’t care who they were snatching the toy from.
It all started with MOMS Club. You can see if they have a local chapter near you. It might be a good fit.
Erin- Fast forward 11 years and Ellen’s Labor Day party was a showcase for this group in action. Many of the people there were from the original MOMS Club group, but many were new friends who had fallen into the bunch. We Mom friends live in all the corners of our rural county, so the kids don’t get to see each other much anymore. But they fell in together like their days in the sandbox were yesterday.
Ellen- I think the giant inflatable water slide helped.
Erin- Now don’t despair if playgroup days have passed you by. Playgroup for elementary school is spelled like this: extracurricular activities.
That’s right. Once your kids are wiping their own noses and tying their own shoes, that sandbox looks like a soccer field, a Boy Scout or Girl Scout meeting, a dance studio, or a Destination ImagiNation team practice.
Ellen – It looks like a church youth group, a theater stage, or a Lego League. There is a fit for every personality type, so start googling now. Look at your local Parks and Recreation, community college, or library website for activities that make your child feel happy and comfortable. Service groups are a good warm and fuzzy fit, too, because they are already made up of kids who are willing to work for the good of the community.
Erin- So when that snit of a mole hill becomes a mountain of frenemy warfare, a nice safe basket will be ready and waiting for your babies to jump into until the storm passes.
By Ellen Williams Erin Dymowski