"I don't need to have friends at school, I just want people to be nice to me."
These were the words of one of my homeroom students today as he spoke to me, his mom, and the counselor. He wasn't in school this morning, and it turned out that he had had a huge anxiety attack last night, brought on by a math quiz he felt unprepared for. When his mom e-mailed us about the incident, the counselor invited the two of them in at lunchtime to talk, and there we were.
He's definitely not a run of the mill kid. He is a straight-A student, serious (perhaps overly so) about his grades, and a superior athlete in a sport no one else in our school participates in. He came from a Montessori program, and there is only one other child from his fifth grade class at our school. His transition to middle school has been rocky, and this is the latest in a series of concerning events, and now he wants his mom to home school him.
There are other issues, too, but the stark truth of this remark is what I carried with me from the meeting. Not concerned about buddies to laugh and hang out and study with, all this kid wants is a place to sit in the lunchroom. It's not that hard to see why the other students might be reluctant to reach out to him. It's for the same reason he himself expressed when the counselor told him that sometimes it's easier to make friends when you have at least one. "Not if people think your one friend is weird," he said.
This is the part of middle school that I have the hardest time with. We tell them it's okay to be themselves even if they're different; we try to teach them to be tolerant and accepting of others, but they don't believe us, and they don't listen. Why? Because it really isn't okay to be different in middle school. The social, the emotional and the developmental all collide to compel conformity, and, most often, all we adults can do is clean up the wreckage and bind up the wounds.