Sympathy for Pre-Teens
The older I get (i’m 31 now), I find it harder and harder to relate to kids and teenagers, which is of course what you would expect. The way they speak, the things they’re into, etc. are just on a different wavelength than anything I remember. But one thing that I think seems to persist from generation to generation is the sudden onset of social hierarchy.
In America at least, this seems to starting happening in middle or junior high school, during what we tend to refer to as the “pre-teen” years. Even though these kids are 11-13 years old, these are the years where they begin to have complex thoughts and emotions. They begin to value things like maturity and common sense. They begin puberty and start to become more conscious of their bodies and sexual desire.
I think a natural compliment to all these occurrences is the idea that it’s time to stop being a kid. It’s not that those child-like urges and tastes have disappeared, it’s just that perhaps kids start feeling a pressure to grow up and seem like they understand what’s going on in the world, which of course is not possible. This pressure leads to a hierarchy of young people, spearheaded by those who are most adequate at portraying this self-actualization and seeming like they’ve graduated beyond being a mere child.
Ironically, the “cool kids” in middle school are often at the forefront of what becomes trendy, which to actual adults definitely seem quite child-like. When I was in middle school, Dragon Ball Z and professional wrestling were cool–and while a significant portion of my generation has grown up and still remained fans of these things, one could still make a good case for them being pretty childish. I’m not sure what’s cool for pre-teens these days, but my guess is that I’d probably see it as child’s play.
The problem with social hierarchies is those at the top of them tend to want to keep their spot at all cost. Usually this involves a conscious effort to remind everyone else who the lame kids are as often as possible, which is often achieved through teasing and bullying.
The saddest thing, however, is that in spite of these new feelings and struggle for popularity, these are all still children. And if they’re anything like I was at that age, they still want to be a kid and have goofy fun and not care about adult things, but the social pressure of middle school all but strips that away.