So this most recent stage of development the boys are in reminds me of when they were toddlers. 12 and 13 feels like 2 and 3 just bigger and with more technology.
Something we talk about a lot is social dynamics, mainly in the form of conflict and conformity. Because when you’re in middle school those two modes of behavior seem to rule your world; who are you getting along with and who are you fighting with? How to appease authority figures and how to be accepted by your peers? And I keep telling myself how transitional this phase of their development is. It’s somewhere in the middle that their own perspective is being forged, quite literally, in the bounce back between extremes.
Again, as when they were little, everything in their life is an experiment. What happens when I do this? E’s first complete sentence was “Must push buttons.” At 2 years old he was compelled to try out every electronic device he could get his adorable little hands on- repeatedly. Sometimes I feel like that is still driving him. Must push buttons. Where do I find conflict and where do I find conformity? What buttons exist for pushing?
Conflict is part of life. Some people have less of it and some have more. Conformity and it’s rewards and disappointments are in constant flux as well. My older son is so frustrated by this. He’s always looking for these universal guidelines and I am always reminding him that the only constant is change, that all rules are context specific. I’ve never been good with absolutisms. I find dogmatic assertions abhorrent. But I realize he is at the age where he needs some bedrock. Some foundational truths about the society he is beginning to claim his own stake in. Why do people fight so much? Why is there so much anger? How come everything feels so drastic? When do you bend and when do you stand? Why is it so scary to feel like you’ll never fit in?
This is as close to a truism as I could get: If society treats you the same way you think you ought to be treated, then you will have less conflict in your life. The greater discrepancy between how you feel you deserve to be treated and how society actually treats you, the more conflict you will experience. Conforming isn’t always an option on the table.
I left it at that, and I will probably repeat this to them many times in the coming years. I want them to be the ones to fill in the specifics. My job is to provide a template, and understand that ultimately they may find it useless and reject it for something completely different based on their own experiences. I give them the ladder, they do the growing.