Child With Differences Can Find Friends
Q. We have three children, an 11-year-old boy, 8-year-old girl and a 5-year-old boy. Our oldest child is one of the youngest kids in his suburban middle school's sixth-grade class. He's in gifted classes, is quite mature and gets straight A's. Our family believes in eating organic food, living environmentally consciously and not watching TV (except for an occasional cartoon or educational program). We strictly limit video games in terms of type and usage time. There are many things that set my 11-year-old apart from his peers. I'm noticing that as he begins his middle-school experience, his differences with his peers are increasing, and I'm concerned about how this will impact his middle-school (and down the line, high school) experiences.
Do you have any thoughts on how we, as parents, can help him navigate these difficult years so that he will come out of them on the other side with his self-esteem and curiosity intact? I believe my 11-year-old would thrive in a small liberal arts college where he could pick and choose his classes, have the luxury of delving into areas of interest, questioning everything to his heart's desire, and where his individuality would be nurtured and cherished.
A. Although your son's environment is different than the majority of children in his school, I'm sure he's not the only child whose family has reduced the media impact on their children. On the other hand, media impact affects all children whether they have direct exposure or only hear what their peers are talking about. It's likely that your son does feel different in many ways and may even feel pressured to know more about the world of his peers.
Because there are others who share your son's interests and aren't as media driven, it will be helpful if he can find a small group of like-minded peers. There may be extracurricular activities, sports, or religious groups where he can feel like he has more similarities than differences, or at least where his differences don't seem important and he's valued more for himself. If he does find such a group, he's likely to be able to navigate the rough waters of middle, high school and college comfortably. That doesn't mean he won't feel some peer pressure or have some difficult times, but they are only part of growing up and hopefully will help him to become stronger and more resilient. While every child needs some protection from environmental pressures, it's best that he experiences some problems now while he's still at home to receive parental support.
While a small liberal arts college may be your son's choice, he may also respond well to a large university where he can find a neighborhood of close friends who, again, share his values. It's too soon to determine the best fit for college, but colleges today, regardless of size, treat students as adults and expect them to take responsibility for their learning and requirements without parental assistance. Your son has quite a few years to develop the independence that he'll need in college, and his being a little younger shouldn't pose a disadvantage for him in light of his good progress at this time.
For free newsletters about keys to parenting your gifted child, choosing a college, or growing up too fast for middle schoolers, send a large self-addressed, stamped envelope to P.O. Box 32, Watertown, WI, 53094, or read other parenting articles at www.sylviarimm.com.
Dr. Sylvia B. Rimm is the director of the Family Achievement Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, a clinical professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and the author of many books on parenting. More information on raising kids is available at www.sylviarimm.com. Please send questions to: Sylvia B. Rimm on Raising Kids, P.O. Box 32, Watertown, WI 53094 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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