I chaperoned Kyle's field trip to Boston today. I had forgotten what 7th graders were like. The last trip I chaperoned was Chris's, to the Old Man of The Mountain in 2001.
Years ago (Jonathan was born, but not Ben) I was a counselor on a Lutheran confirmation retreat for 7th-9th graders. I decided then that I really disliked 7th grade boys and 9th grade girls, for very different reasons. I got to see half of that today, with just a sniff of the other half. This is the end of 7th grade, after all, and the boys are on the verge of growing out of their spectacularly annoying behavior while the girls are showing only the first signs of theirs. Your mileage may vary, of course, as you may react to very different male-female behaviors of those ages.
Remember your own dealing with 7th graders as a group, or even your own behavior then. Remember the notes passed, the whispered confidences that were of course meant to be shared immediately with that special boy or girl, however much you protested. There is this whole network of group communication. There is an ultra-social group that interacts with each other constantly and keeps going out with each other, to no apparent end. The majority of the rest latch on at times, and want to be part of this constant temperature taking and boy-girl hothouse. They lack the social obsession and stamina, however, and retreat much of the time to same-sex interaction about things they actually care about: sports, music, styles. The last group cares only slightly for any of it, but also does not want to fall into any hard Excluded category, and so plays along.
It is developmentally very appropriate, of age cohorts bonding with each other on their way to becoming adults, of practice romance, emotional toughening, social disciplining of the herd.
Now imagine that all of this is steroidally enhanced by text messaging.
Girls take pictures of themselves holding their phone at arm's length, and send it to other phones. Then they shout four rows back on the bus "Did you get the picture I sent you?" Then they go back four rows to sit with the person to watch the photo come up. All the while, boys talk too loudly to each other and the girls, stealing gatorades or iPods right out of hands, and finding it hysterically funny not to give them back. They pass them to other boys. Girls get teary, but come right back for more once they get their stuff back. The girls that are the circulatory system of the social set, flirting badly with most boys and being devastated that the Special Boy does not see her panting heart amidst the static - eventually up the ante to exchanging phones to read what others have said to others, and everything approaches a crescendo of overinterpreting and hurt feeling. The truly mean boys then retreat behind the show-off comments of the dweeby ones, watching the girls get into stupid arguments with socially overmatched boys over whether it was all a joke.
So the hurt girls still pine for the mean boys, not realising that it was they who instigated the insults via the dweebs, who are showing off in an effort to be accepted by somebody, anybody. Or at least not rejected.
And that was just the bus trip down.