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Middle School child -- "Joanne" case study in the quick maturing quality of today's youth of a ten-year-old girl (Observation done a middle school during student's lunch period)
Joanne" (pseudonym) is a ten-year-old young woman of Greek-American extraction. Her father is a Greek-American, naturalized during his adolescence in the city of Chicago. Her mother is a Greek immigrant. Joanne has been a resident of the area for most of her own life and education, however she frequently travels to Greece during the summers. At home, she speaks both Greek and English. Her mother is only fluent in Greek, and her father expresses difficulty in communication in both languages, according to his own report, depending on the length of time he has spent in either area. He frequently travels on business back and forth to Greece, and has done so all of his life, having minimal contact with his daughter and wife at both times. He has one other daughter from a previous marriage whom Joanne has minimal interaction with. However, Joanne is the only child within the household at the present time. At the time of the observation, her father had just left the home on travel (although he made himself available briefly before the observation), and thus Joanne was speaking mainly Greek at home, and mainly English in school.
As a middle school student, Joanne was evaluated during lunch period in the context of her classroom environment, at a local suburban public school often designated as 'middle class.' This observation was conduced at the time, in this area, to give an idea of how Joanne related to her peers on an interpersonal level, as well as her level of academic development. According to her parents, whom were conferred with before and after the observation to obtain permission and to obtain further data regarding the young woman, Joanne's educational development has not been all that they have desired. They wished she had done better, not so much in terms of her grades, which were all A's and Bs, but in her extracurricular pursuits in ballet and tennis, and also in terms of the interest she showed in school. They felt they had to push her very hard to succeed.
Regardless, Joanne's teachers expressed strong confidence in Joanne's ability, saying that she was slightly above her grade level in mathematics, although her language skills were somewhat deficient, partially, perhaps as a result of her bilingual home environment. She exhibited unusual prowess in the small foreign language component offered by the school in Spanish, although such displays are not unusual in students from multilingual backgrounds, given that the cognitive areas of the brain devoted to language development in a variety of areas are stimulated in a consistent and early fashion in a way that they might not be for all individuals.
Description of Development and Observation
Joanne was observed during lunch period in the computer room of her school, checking and sending her email. She sat with two of her friends. Upon conferring with me privately, she confided that one of the girls was her very best friend. The other girl, she said, was merely tolerated in her presence, because she was a member of Joanne's church outside of school and the girl's parents were friends of Joanne's parents. Otherwise she found the girl kind of dorky, she said. Her reference to the other girl showed frankness and a lack of willingness to conceal her feelings out of social pressures and politeness typical of her age, rather than exhibiting a level of emotional and social awareness above her age.
Joanne appeared to be in control of the three girls. She masterminded the keyboard while she surfed the Internet. She checked her email at her home account, and the three girls used only her screen name and instant messaging name during their play, although she willingly typed information and messages that Mary Ellen whispered in her ear, to whomever she was speaking to. She refused to say aloud, even afterwards, to me, the subject of the dialogue between Mary Ellen and herself, or to whom they were engaging in messaging.
Over the course of the period of messaging, Joanne giggled frequently, teased the other two girls, and often raised her voice in ways they appeared reluctant to do so. However, the girl, named Mary Ellen, whom was Joanne's 'best friend' often engaged in other social behavior that exhibited a different kind of dominance, albeit not of a rhetorical form. She would slide her chair away when Joanne appeared to be exercising too much control over her, and grow silent until Joanne asked for her opinion about something. Mary Ellen would fold her arms, withdrawing as a way of exercising dominance, rather than raising her voice. This method could be cultural as well as gender-based, given Joanne's much more high-conflict and high-context cultural environment of Greek-American culture at home, where arguments and openness about feelings and emotions were more willingly expressed, than they might be in Mary Ellen's house of a non-Greek, indeterminate background. (When asked what Mary Ellen's cultural and ethnic background was, Joanne could only respond that Mary Ellen was just regular America, normal, which I took to mean Protestant and Caucasian.)
Mary Ellen at times would look at nearby boys, most of whom were from the seventh and eight grades, doing an assignment for a class that was sharing the computer room, and try to wave to them. When Joanne reprimanded her for not paying attention to what was on the screen, Mary Ellen shrugged and said that she hadn't been doing anything. However, both girls seemed to realize that this was in fact a fiction, but a necessary and frequent fiction that both resorted to in their behaviors with one another.
The second 'dorky' girl, named Lenora, often took Joanne's side in these small confrontations, but was otherwise ignored by both girls. Towards the end of the observation, in an apparent attempt to switch alliances and tactics, the girl took Mary Ellen's side in an argument that resulted, regarding the fact if the girls should leave the computer room early, or wait for the bell. However, Mary Ellen seemed unimpressed by this demonstration of loyalty, and Joanne turned on the girl sharply, saying that the discussion was between Mary Ellen and herself, and that Lenora should stay out of it. The girls, in compliance with Joanne's wishes, left the room early, and did not wait for the late bell.
Joanne's desire to leave early seems to be commensurate with her ability, as confirmed by her teacher, to please adults, at times even at the expense of her peer group. Joanne had a cell phone, but when she checked its messages, against school rules, she did so quite furtively, and expressed fear at getting caught. Mary Ellen, while she did so, kept teasing and poking Joanne, confirming that Joanne was 'going to get caught, going to get it, and get the phone taken away from her' by the principal. Joanne, moreover, was only checking the phone to see if her mother had left her a message about where to pick her up after school, if she should meet her at the school or later at the dance studio, after Joanne's ballet class.
According to her teachers, Joanne is always prompt in handing in her assignments, and usually does what she is told. She seems to have yet fully separated her independent wants and desires from the adults in her life, particularly her teachers and her mother. Joanne is quite responsible, though and often fulfills a leadership position, a position the teachers say they encourage her to aspire to, because of her apparently confident persona. They describe her as trustworthy and reliable and mature, even though her lack of independence in her actions, and her deferential behavior towards adults is not necessarily mature in a developmental sense.
Also according to her teachers, and in her own estimation, Joanne devotes a great deal of effort to her schoolwork. Although she has not tested in the academically talented or gifted range in her assessments, part of the reason she wished to go to the computer room, she confided to me later, was to research for a paper that was due for her science class on the internet. Joanne's desire for approval from authority figures even extended to myself, the observer of these recorded interactions. For instance, when Joanne saw me sitting and taking notes in the corner, she made a motion to me to come over, even though I had instructed her previously that I was to be a mere fly on the wall and to exercise an unobtrusive role as possible in the proceedings. Joanne asked me if I was lonely, just sitting there, although Mary Ellen, in one of the rare displays of verbal authority she exercised, said to leave me alone and just to 'bud out.' Mary Ellen scrupulously ignored me, seeming to be jealous of the…[continue]
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