Wednesday, November 10, 2010

On Inadvertently Embarrassing Teens or Why I Changed my Blog Pic

Author and blogger Marc Aronson at writes about presenting to eighth-graders and what a challenge that can be. Fourth, fifth, and sixth-graders. he points out, are still enthusiastic learners and, for the most part, eager to please. Not so for eight-graders.

Eight-graders can be a tough audience.  They have, as Marc pointed out, a different, more skeptical approach to listening to adults. He described it perfectly as a "show me that you are worth my while, otherwise I have enough here, in myself, with my friends, I know more, I don't need you," attitude.
You've got to step up your game with these kids.

Now, I'm generalizing here, but it seems to me this age group is also exquisitely vulnerable to embarrassment. Much of their posturing is for emotional protection.

I learned this not to long ago when I told my middle school aged daughter that I had a school visit coming up.  "You're not going to wear THAT dress, are you?" she asked, referring to my Greek/Roman costume, with that horrified expression teenage girls seem to perfect.

"Well, um..."

"Oh my GAWD, Mom! Please don't! I will never be able to show my face again!"

"Sweetheart, the visit isn't even at your school!"

"Doesn't matter. What if one of my friends SEES you in that? Oh my god..." And so on and so forth.

I assured her that under no circumstances would I ever show up at her school in "that dress" but that younger kids seemed to enjoy the costume.

But then I noticed something else.

I observed a boy at a literature-based/mythology camp I help run at a bookstore. We had a college student in costume pretending to be the Oracle at Delphi. She wasn't necessarily the best actress but most kids rolled with it and had fun. One boy, I noticed though, could barely stand the discomfort of watching her act. He was literally cringing with embarrassment. Did he know her?  Nope, I discovered. Still, when I looked closer, I saw that other kids his age (6th grade), were slightly embarrassed too.

Kids get embarrassed by adults that aren't even "theirs!" I hadn't realized that!

So I figured that if my get-up embarrassed some kids, I had a diminished chance of capturing them with my message. Bye-bye costume.

I may change my mind about it down the road, but for now, it feels right. Besides, I'm getting too dang old for it!


Unknown said...

Haha!! I thought that dress was awesomne!

It's probably a good thing I don't have kids of my own - my recommendation is to wear it even more, down to the mall, fancy dinners, or when doing a spot of gardening ;)

How else will youngsters learn that being overly self conscious isn't right

Ah, how I wish I could go to work in a Toga....


Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

I agree in theory, Hasan. In the beginning, I used to say, "But don't you understand--it's my JOB to embarrass you and I like to try and excel at my job!"

But, if the end result was they pulled away from me--at a time when it was really important to stay emotionally connected to them--then it wasn't worth it.

Of course, I'm not saying wearing the costume did that (I think I was looking for an excuse to retire it), but it did bring home just how vulnerable this-aged kids feel.

Karen Strong said...

I thought it was cute too --- but then again, I'm no longer a 9th grade girl either (good thing too, I was a HOT mess - my poor mother. Ha.)

I love your new picture though.

It's interesting that you said that maybe the costumes and "acting" may take away from a presentation. I would think it would pull the audience in. Sigh. I'm getting old.

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

Thanks Karen. I think the costume and "acting" definitely works for younger audiences. It's just that by 8th grade, it's a little riskier.

Elizabeth O. Dulemba said...

Aw man - I love the costume!!! But I get it, I get it. *whew* e said...

That is too funny and strangely, another hint that I have never really grown up either. I get embarrassed when I see people in costumes and part of me pities them as well.

You know those poor people that stand on the corner, looking like a big Subway sandwich, holding a sign with the lunch specials? My heart bleeds for them.

(I won't even go into my irrational fear of anyone wearing a mask....)

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

E, I love it too and I may yet wear it again someday.

Gwen, glad to know I'm not the only one who feels for those poor souls in their silly costumes. It's usually a "don't make eye contact! don't make eye contact!" kind of moment as I drive or walk by.

sally said...

"Kids get embarrassed by adults that aren't even "theirs!" I hadn't realized that!"

ha ha, too funny. I always thought they liked it when other people's mothers acted like idiots because it took the pressure off of them a bit.

Well, you're a brave woman, in the costume or out. School visits in front of eighth-graders would terrify me no matter what I was wearing.

Bearded Lady said...

ha that is too funny. I would have totally worn the greek costume too...which just reenforces my dorkiness in the eyes of the typical 8th grader.

I think even 5th graders are tough. The younger the better. I remember on one school visit, I introduced myself and a boy in the back screamed, "good for you." All his friends laughed. I felt like a loser.

School visits can be brutal but then there are the kids who tell you how much they loved your talk and ask you to sign every last bit of paper. I keep coming back for those kids. The bad ones...well, my mom used to chase me with a bar of soap!