I've been there. I've been that awkward 6th grader holding my lunch tray looking out across the cafeteria with trepidation wondering where to sit. I have vivid memories of approaching my usual table and being forced to find another place because those seats were "saved" for other girls.
In a recent article in The Atlantic called "The Outside Influence of Your Middle School Friends," author Lydia Denworth suggests, "if you want to know whether your child is going to be happy or miserable, confident or anxious, being a fly on the wall at lunch would probably tell you a lot." If only we could!
More on the social dynamics of middle school from the article:
- Kids enter the world of multiple classrooms with new classmates when they begin middle school making the number of friendship possibilities increase dramatically.
- Kids at this age are also becoming more concerned over whether or not they will be accepted by others.
- Middle school friendships are unstable. Two thirds of the children switched friends from fall to spring.
- Children with at least one friend (ie. "social buffer") are less likely to be bullied.
- Friends take over as social buffers (lower brain cortisol when stressed) over parents when kids begin puberty.
One idea for improving lunchtime for lonely kids:
"If we needed a reminder of the intense vulnerability lunch period brings, we got one in the efforts of a teenager named Denis Estimon. When he was a newly arrived Haitian immigrant in a Florida elementary school, lunch was the worst part of his day. He decided to do something about it when he reached high school and cofounded a club called We Dine Together. “It’s not a good feeling, like you’re by yourself. And that’s something that I don’t want anybody to go through,” Estimon told CBS. Club members spend the lunch hour wandering the cafeteria and courtyard of their Boca Raton school in search of anyone eating alone. Then they sit down with their own lunch and chat."
Love this idea! I hope that more kids like Denis (and schools) can brainstorm ways to help middle school kids feel welcomed and belonged at lunch.
Stay tuned and check back as we talk more about spreading kindness and ways girls can help each other with middle school lunchtime.