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Vive La Difference!

by Ronald A. Rowe | September 18th, 2014 | Social, Tweens

school-class-401519_640During the Junior High years, tweenagers are beginning to really come into their own, socially.  The natural inclination of the human condition is to seek out others similar to ourselves.  While there is nothing wrong with fraternizing amongst our most like peers, that should not be the sum total of our social circle.  Your tween may need a little nudge to encourage him or her to actively seek out friends who look or act differently than themselves.

This variation can take many different forms.  Race is the most obvious.  If all your son’s friends are generic white, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for him to actively seek out a black or Asian or Indian boy or two to befriend.  But race is just one of the many dimensions of difference.  Two blue-eyed blonde girls from affluent families in the same neighborhood could be segregated into entirely separate social cliques based on interests.  If the cheerleaders and the band kids, or the artists and the athletes don’t mix, it may well be worth your while to nudge your daughter toward branching out and making friends outside her circle of influence.

You cannot force the issue.  Telling your son that he has to find a Latino kid to play with is not going to do anyone any good.  Obstructing your daughter from hanging out with her friends in the marching band is not going to foster better relationships.  You can encourage and direct your children toward greater diversity but the direction should be subtle and the choices have to be your child’s.  Tweens have reached an age where mere physical proximity is not enough to forge meaningful friendships.  (I will pause here while we bask in the nostalgia of the days when plunking the kiddos in the sand box next to each other was all that was required to make a new best friend.)

So while you cannot (and should not try to) force your child into diverse social relationships, there are some things that you can do to encourage them in that direction.  Perhaps the best thing that you can do to help your child in this area is to lead by example.  What does your social circle look like?  If you are an Indian-American accountant and you only spend time with other Indian-American accountants you may not be setting the example you want your tween to follow.  Expand your social horizons and you will accomplish two things.  You will model the attitude you are trying to instill in your child and you will, by virtue of your expanded circle, introduce opportunities for your child to interact with people of different backgrounds and cultures.

Sameness is good.  Your child should have friends with the same interests, class schedules, extra-curricular activities, and religious preferences.  But different is good, too.  Your child is missing out on a piece of the middle school experience if he or she is not branching out and becoming acquainted with other children from different backgrounds.

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