“What do you mean you’re not going to wear that shirt any more? You picked it out! In the store you said it was cool.”
We don’t get it. And they know we don’t get it. But they get it… 180 days a year. That’s why they’re hyper-aware of the fragile pecking order in school. They know that just about anything they do or say could instantly condemn them to the Losers Slag Heap for eternity.
I’m currently working on Book 4 of Middle School Confidential. And I’ve been trying to figure out how to help kids deal with their fear of embarrassment – which for a typical 7th grader is probably life’s most dreaded experience.
You know how when you’re into something new the universe keeps sticking you with opportunities to think about it? Say you start flirting with the idea of going to Nepal, then within a week, you meet no fewer than 17 people who all happen to have just returned from Kathmandu? Coincidence? I think not!
So yesterday the universe tossed an answer into my driveway in the form of a San Francisco Chronicle article on dieting. The story featured cognitive therapist Dr. Judith Beck, whose new book helps chronic dieters quit fearing hunger so they can relax and stop obsessing about their weight.
What’s that got to do with middle schoolers and embarrassment? The objective of cognitive behavior therapy is (according to Wikipedia, source of all knowledge): “… to identify and monitor thoughts, assumptions, beliefs and behaviors that are related and accompanied to debilitating negative emotions — to identify those which are dysfunctional, inaccurate or simply unhelpful, and to replace or transcend them with more realistic and useful ones.”
So I’m thinking, if I could:
a) help middle schoolers deconstruct their assumptions about embarrassment
b) help them see that their current strategies for dealing with embarrassing moments just might be making things worse
c) help them rein in the out-of-control fear of embarrassing themselves
d) help them create some more helpful ways of coping with the inevitable (we all have those moments)
…then they just might give themselves permission to see embarrassment for what it is… a normal human emotion that passes quickly if you let it go. And they might actually lighten up on themselves (and their embarrassment-inducing parents). Result? 6th-8th graders just might be willing to put themselves out there more and have fun.
So that’s what I’m working on at the moment.
If you have any comments about what has and hasn’t worked when helping your kids deal with the aftermath of an embarrassing middle school or high school moment, I’d love to hear from you!