Archie Growing Up: What Five and Six Year Olds Talk About

Several regular readers are or were elementary school teachers — am especially looking for your comments here. Also curious about middle and high school teachers and guidance counselors — if popularity is on the agenda at six, where does it go from there?

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I am officially a relic when it comes to current culture.

Archie and I have fascinating conversations as I’m driving him home from school. He has an extensive vocabulary and a curious mind. Turns out he’s right up there with cultural commentary as well. Here was our most recent conversation:

Grammie, are you popular?

What does that mean, sweetheart?

A lot of people like you and want to play with you and a lot of people know your name.”

Startled though I was at the notion of a six year old talking about popularity in a way that showed he clearly got the concept, I did the obligatory Grammie thing.

When you get older you don’t have so many people in your life, so I’m probably not popular any more. I try to be a good person instead of thinking about whether I’m popular. I love you because you’re a good person too, because you are kind and thoughtful and generous. I don’t care whether or not you are popular.”

Archie had one more thought about popularity:

If you’re popular when you’re a grown-up, you get to make a lot of money like Trump.”

So much to unpack. I’m very sure I wasn’t aware of being popular or not until 7th grade, when I and some of my friends were invited to join a Saturday evening cotillion sponsored by the Women’s Club of Kearny. The Women’s Club represented the elite of white Protestant women in our town, with a few Catholics like my mother sprinkled in. There was only one Jewish woman who made the cut, Tena Harris. Tena owned her own business, and Tina’s daughter Linda was the only Jewish girl who got in. I suppose those of us who got to go felt popular.

Beyond just getting in, there was the matter that we had a half-dozen more girls than boys, and the boys were always the ones who got to ask the girls to dance. We sat on opposite sides of the auditorium in Roosevelt School, and when our dance master Freddie Frobose gave the signal, the boys raced across the room to ask their favorite partner. It was the absolute kiss of death to be one of the leftover six. Even more humiliating, those six had to be the first asked for the next dance. If you got picked in the first round, you were popular. If not, devastatingly not.

One boy, Jimmy Booth, like me and always picked me. I didn’t care for Jimmy other than as a friend and we never dated, but I cultivated him precisely because he was my ticket to being one of the chosen girls.

Lordy, I hate to think I was that calculating, but I was.

I have no understanding of a cultural context in which five and six year olds have to deal with issues of being popular. And I’m doubly flabbergasted that “popularity” and “making a lot of money” and “Trump” — again largely accurate — are notions that six year olds understand.

Help me out here. Did you know that six year olds talk about popularity, or are you a cultural relic too?

6 thoughts on “Archie Growing Up: What Five and Six Year Olds Talk About

  1. Having no children, I’m not much help with your questions. But where did Archie get his info about popularity, money, and Trump?

  2. for Phyllis: You have nieces and nephews, and common sense. Doesn’t a discussion of popularity among six year olds strike you as out of whack? In terms of Trump, I don’t know where the kids got their information. I chose not to go down that path with Archie, focusing instead on the popularity issue. I’m conflicted myself about how to talk about Trump. You and I grew up with a basic respect for the office of the presidency. Trump has so debased that office, I’m not sure what we tell children. But the implications loom large. Blog post about that point specifically tomorrow.

  3. My teaching experience is now 17 years out of date. However, kids were always aware of who was popular and who was not…………but not until around 4th grade in my experience of teaching. And in my own school experience, I would say very aware of that in junior high.
    Amazed by the Trump comment. It does strike me as out of whack. Scary, too.
    I will be seeing my nine and ten year old granddaughters this weekend. I will ask them and report back!

  4. for Ada: I forget how dated all of our work experience is. Look forward to hearing what comes from the mouths of 9 and 10 year olds. Thanks for the comment. Trying to get all of the insight that I can.

  5. In my profession as a middle school vice principal, we were made aware of studies that claimed that the desire to be popular was the most important concern among 11 to 15 year olds, much higher than their parents dying. The power of this desire led to many inappropriate actions, including sexual activity at a young age. This was 15 years ago and I am not surprised it is in the elementary level now. Keeping the “lines of communication open” is even more important than ever!

  6. for Linda: Most of you with direct experience of teaching and administration are less surprised than I am at the discussion of who’s popular among six year olds. The study you refer to is really interesting. I suppose that what this all means is that they’ll be confronting issues of who belongs and who doesn’t at a much younger age. Hard for parents, hard for teachers. Thanks for responding.

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