Linda Perlstein’s Not much just chillin‘ portrays many changes taking place in the lives of students. Students form social groups during middle school, identify intimacy as a desired state, and everything is viewed in relation to themselves. During adolescence, students are also defiant and long for their freedom. Physical changes are taking place at this time in preteens. In middle school, students change at such various rates. Parents and teachers play huge roles in the lives of middle school students, by setting high expectations, preparing students for college, and being good role models. Both parents and teachers are preteens’ support systems and hope to motivate children to learn. I think Perlstein’s Not much just chillin‘ did a good job of encompassing the physical, emotional, and physiological changes taking place in middle school students.
At the preteen years, social cliques form and students are labeled as either a jock or not a jock. Adolescents are identified according to their popularity rank. Perlstein (2003) refers to high school when stating, “Popularity is flexible; there are far more niches in which to find acceptance” (p. 177-178). During middle school, there are not as many choices of activities to feel as though one is “cool” and fits in with people. Throughout this time of longing to belong to a group, appearance matters most. Often, children are defined by what they have or what they do not have. A style is created, according to the music that one listens to and the clothes that one wears. Rejection, humiliation, and teasing affect a child’s perception of himself or herself and ultimately, affects his or her self-esteem. Being excluded from a social group can have detrimental effects. The adolescent years are a time of self-reliance and having responsibilities. Students explore options at this point in their lives, looking to find themselves. Preteens seek other peers that have the same similarities as they do. During middle school, connections are made with others.
Middle school is a time when sexualities are emerging. Preteens show interest for the opposite sex and cannot explain this overwhelming feeling that has come over them. Perlstein (2003) describes middle school as being a time, “when boys and girls notice each other that way” (p. 41). At this time in their lives, preteens strive for affection, but are unsure of how to find it. Simple crushes develop in order for students to find others that think of them the same way as their parents perceive them. Students in middle school long for approval from others and long to find someone who believes in their decision making. Preteens need reassurance when learning more about who they are and what they want from a significant other. Perlstein (2003) explains this notion as praising “boys’ and girls’ status among their peers, as long as they choose correctly” (p. 42). Topics of boys and romance are constantly the main avenues of communication between girls. During middle school, romantic dramas occur through reflected emotions. I also like Erik Erikson’s description of romance, “Girls step toward womanhood by attaching themselves to others of the opposite sex; boys step toward manhood by breaking away from such ties” (Perlstein, 2003, p. 47). Girls’ self-esteem is built by being liked by someone, whereas boys become distracted when becoming romantically involved with someone in their preteens.
During the preteen years, there is a varying relationship between the child and the adult. At this time in students’ lives, they want to find self-direction, explore, and make choices. Children in middle school want to talk about what is going on in their lives and seek approval from adults. Preteens look for someone who shows interest in their schoolwork, provides warmth, and sets high expectations. Parents are the largest influence on the things that matter most and there is such a need for their involvement at this time in preteens’ lives. According to Perlstein (2003), “family is by far a middle schooler’s greatest source of self-esteem” (p. 100). A child in middle school also loves rules and being told “no,” on occasion. A child is less likely to misbehave in school, after being told “no” by a parent at home. A child’s interest is in pleasing his or her parents. By giving children rules, parents teach children to learn to take responsibility for their actions. Through guidance and encouragement, children learn to develop independence and feel a sense of accomplishment after completing their own work. Adolescence is a period when children want the company of their parents, their help, and encouragement.
Middle school is a time for physical changes taking place, with regards to appearance. Preteens enjoy this time of growth and change. Students are maturing as individuals, but also experience a sense of loss to their earlier years. This new time in their lives is alluring, as muscles form and arms and legs are growing. Physical changes take place at different times for everyone. Perlstein (2003) proposes that children mature quickly “(three inches a year, on average, for boys) and so unevenly that inactivity is actually painful” (p. 62). Students going through puberty can seldom sit still for long and need the activity. Adolescents worry about clothes fitting them appropriately and have growing appetites. Students obsess over their body-image and usually never get enough sleep. While going through these physiological changes, they also develop into active thinkers.
I can remember when I was in middle school about the importance of belonging and fitting into a particular group. At this point in my life, I struggled through a tomboyish phase, wanting to socialize with the boys, and also wanting to fit in with girls by joining a cheerleading group. By participating in various activities, I was able to find where I belonged and made friends with people that shared the same interests as me. My middle school experience resembled that of Jimmy in Not much just chillin‘, who “started sixth grade closely knit into his group of best friends from elementary school” (Perlstein, 2003, p. 105). I had formed relationships during my elementary school years and continued those friendships into middle school. I talked about school with friends and often made plans on the weekend to go to the mall. It was critical that I was up to date with the latest fashion. Otherwise, I would not have been considered “cool” and being unaccepted by others was unimaginable. I can also remember at this time that I wanted my parents’ trust in the choices that I made. My parents’ trust was important for me to discover who I was as an individual and how I fit into the world.
As an adolescent, I cannot remember having any sexual desires but I remember noticing differences between males and females. I made guy friends and would occasionally flirt with boys in my classes. In particular, I remember using the instant messenger on the internet to communicate with others and reading teen magazines about romance. I secretly had crushes on celebrities and occasionally dated boys in school, especially when wanting to go to a school dance. When my dating partner and I broke up, I remember feeling hurt but I felt less hurt as I got older. My feelings were experienced the same way as Perlstein (2003) describes when she states, “the elation can be immense, and the heartbreak inevitable” (p. 46). Romance with another signified that I was chosen and dated just like everyone else. Other students in middle school at this time were actively engaged with others and rumors were spread about their involvement. My parents were particularly protective and would supervise my dates. My parents’ values became my values and their opinion mattered most to me.
Appearance to preteens is a particular area of concern. I had differing views compared to Jackie, as Perlstein (2003) explains: “Her period, which she’s been told she’ll get when she’s fifteen or sixteen, can wait” (p. 48). When I was in middle school, I was mostly worried in the sixth grade about puberty taking place at the right time. While I changed for physical education, I noticed eighth graders who were more physically mature and wondered when I would develop. During middle school, I had similar circumstances as Jackie represented in the book. I was also pestered for being short. I was shorter and smaller than most everyone else and desperately wanted to be tall. It was a trying time for me, because I also faced challenges with my facial appearance breaking out and I wore braces. After running cross-country, I was particularly thin and was accused of being anorexic.
Middle school is a difficult time for many students with regards to finding out who they are and enjoying the experience. Teachers and parents need to make learning fun and participate in their students’ activities. Participation in activities should be encouraged with relation to each individual belonging to a particular group. It is important for teachers to explain to students the similarities and differences that all students display. Middle school students should be encouraged to work in groups to promote friendships. There should be time set aside to talk with adolescents about puberty changes taking place. Parents need to display enthusiasm for their children’s independence.
During adolescence, it is of great importance that home situations are stable and there is active engagement between a preteen and the adult. Parents need to remember the vital role that they play in their children’s lives, and understand the growing up process in their child. At this time in my life, I questioned my values, wardrobe, and hobbies. My parents served as good role models and stressed the importance of obtaining a good education. My parents were actively engaged in my school performance and served to help me in problematic areas. They approved when success was made. It is so important that parents show their children that they care for them and long to see improvement made academically.