Ever since school started this fall, Katie has come home with weird stories about new behaviors she’s experiencing now that she’s in middle school. These are things the kids didn’t do before middle school (well, maybe a little but nothing like what’s happening now). It goes like this:
Katie opens her lunch her friend immediately asks, “Can I have that?” referring to her cookie, chips, pretzels, insert food item here.
Walking across the Quad at lunchtime, an eighth grader who doesn’t know her at all says, “Can I have a dollar?”
In class, a student assistant, a seventh grader says, “You need to give me some money!”
In another class, a friend spies her Silly Bands and begs, “Can I have one paahhhllleeessseee?”
What the heck is going on? Apparently it’s relentless and for some reason, my daughter has the good sense to say no. But I am really not sure why. I mean some of these people are her friends or at least people she’s friendly with. As for the older kids, I can’t believe she has the courage to rebuff them. But she does (thank god) and she feels completely comfortable telling them to take a hike.
But what is really going on here? This was really bugging me. So I asked an expert – my friend, her principal. Since she’s made a career out of middle school-aged kids, I figured she’d be able to clue me in. She did.
So what’s behind “the ask”?
Turns out there are two different kinds of motivations behind “the ask.” The first is kind of sweet, not so much because of what the kids are doing, but why they are doing it. When “the ask” is peer-to-peer, it’s really a desperate attempt to form a social connection.
What the child is really saying is, “do you like me? If you do, you’d share with me,” which, I admit is a bit clunky. But it makes sense. These are kids who are thrown together, many aren’t friends but are friendly, and they have no idea how to approach someone and make a friend. So this awkward social bargaining ensues.
Now the other “ask” is really about power. As you might have noted, the person asking is typically older and inherently has more power in the relationship (bigger graders preying on younger graders). If the child asking succeeds in getting what he or she wants – most often money, but Katie has also been asked for school supplies and food – then they “win” the power struggle. And I have to believe that poor kid who gave in will be an easy ask the next time.
As I talked about this with Katie, she totally got it. It was like a light went on. “Of course,” she said, “it’s all about power. I am so telling my friends to tell those other kids to bug off.” But on the friendship side of things, when I offered a suggestion of how to handle things differently, she told me I am full of it. She says she has it figured out and it will be fine.
No one is getting her stuff.