The Middle School Conundrum: The Land Before Time

We have another kid who just entered middle school, which means this is now my third time through it. (Once as a middle schooler myself, and now twice as a parent.) It never seems to get any easier, sadly, and I’ve been trying to figure out why.

Here’s a theory I came up with last night, and an analogy I came up with just now. A lot of the difficult comes down to Three Horns and Long Necks. In The Land Before Time, the animated movie I watched far too much of as a child, a group of dinosaur children have to team up to try to get to the Lost Valley, a place where dinosaurs will be safe from the destruction around them. One of the lines that we always repeated when I was a kid was “Three horns never play with long necks.”

And of course part of the point of the movie is the dinosaur kids (a triceratops, a stegosaurus, an apatosaurus, a saurolophus, and a pteranodon) learn to overcome their differences and all get along. It’s a great sentiment.

But what if one of the dinos had been a tyrannosaurus? A straight up meat eating hunter who would one day grow up to want to eat all his friends? (I guess that’s sort of in the vein of Disney’s Fox and the Hound, just much bloodier . . .)

When you’re in elementary school, no one really knows who they’re going to be yet. Yes, there are mean kids and nice kids, but a lot of the dynamics come down to who you were already friends with. When you reach middle school, that’s when people actually start figuring out who they want to be. What sort of a person they are. And unfortunately, sometimes the people you’re already friends with turn out not to be the people the person you want to be wants to be friends with. Or maybe it’s not a matter of want. Maybe it’s a matter of compatibility.

Now, I don’t mean by this that some people are born predators or prey or anything like that. Maybe the dinosaur analogy is the wrong thing to use for that reason. But when you’ve always tried your best to be a good friend, and then suddenly the people you’re friends with aren’t the people you thought they were, it’s a jarring feeling.

But people change and friendships morph all the time. As an adult, you recognize that, and you’ve dealt with it often enough to be able to handle it. I’ve had various very close friends over the years, some of whom I’m still close with today, and some I’m not. In some cases, we drifted apart. In some cases, life got in the way. But middle school is the time when suddenly it’s happening all around you, and you’re changing at the same time. No wonder it’s all bewildering.

I think it helps to have dealt with it before as a parent now. Denisa and I have experience handling it. But that doesn’t make it any easier on the kid in question. What can I say? Maybe sometimes, three horns really shouldn’t play with long necks . . .


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