Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Social Hierarchies and Frozen Yogurt

Me and my friend Verena, senior year of high school, 1993

Over the weekend, I was at YoMama getting some frozen yogurt with Tad and Lucy while Coen was at a sleepover.  As we ate our treats, we observed two groups of high school kids.

One group was clearly picking on some other kids. There were two girls and two boys.  They were on their phones, calling and texting and making remarks about kids they saw out the window. I was watching them, whilst trying to look like I wasn't watching them and trying to figure out if they were being mean...or just playing. 

Then a group of high school boys came in.  They said hello to the other kids who just laughed and then took a seat not too far away.  Fascinated, I watched them interact with each other, trying to figure out the dynamics. 

The boys that came in seemed like they were really smart, just by the way they were talking and the words they were using. It was clear that the first group was laughing at them.  When the first group left, one of the girls shot back over her shoulder as they exited, "Don't stalk us!"

One of the boys said to his friend, "I'll give you a dollar if you follow them out."  He did.  Shortly after, he came back in for his friends and all of them left. I saw them walking in separate directions, clearly calling things out to each other as they walked away.

I wanted to run out there and say to the smart boys, "Don't worry! This stuff goes away as you get older!"  I told Tad that I wanted to do that.
"Go ahead!" He said.  "They'll laugh at you." 
"But they'll still hear me." I added.

And I thought about how both those groups of kids--all the kids in them--are probably just struggling to be accepted, trying to be who they are amid a sea of insecurities, popularities and general confusion about life.  And how much external an internal pressure they're under to fit in, to do well in school, to be "cool". 

And if I did go up to them and tell them that they're just in a phase of life that will eventually end, would they even believe me? When you're in high school, it feels like your whole world, past present and future....  When my kids are in high school, how will I be able to validate their experience, while promising them a future away from it?

I remember after high school was over, how relieved I was.   I thought I'd go to college and go to grad school and then go on and do a doctoral thesis on the system of social hierarchy in high school, what it means and how it plays out as we enter our adulthood.  I'm still fascinated by it.  High school was such a hard time in my life, but a period of such growth. 

And as my twenty year reunion comes up this summer, I can at least look back at my sixteen or seventeen year old self and say, "See?  It did get better."

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