Yesterday, I had a serious chat with my seven-year-old about the concepts of “introvert” and “extrovert.” This was basically to reassure him that, yes, I did understand why lockdown is so hard for him. It’s a little better, now he’s in school—distance learning, in fact—but you take a kid who, as a toddler, declared literally every child he met to be his best friend, to the deep concern of my older sister the introvert, and you stick him alone in a house with only his parents and his younger sister, and that’s a kid who’s going to be under considerable strain. The media he watches doesn’t seem to be as aware of that as I am, though.
Oh, I won’t deny that there are plenty of examples of children in media with friendship as an important part of the plot. Or magic, even. Most of my favourite TV shows involving adolescents are deeply involved in the importance of friendship. However, even there, most of the friendships are a lot more insular. This is for sound plot reasons; even in animated shows, where you can populate the school with as many kids as you want, you’d still have to hire voice actors for all those characters. It still means that these shows don’t look the way my adolescence did.
I can’t be the only person who clearly remembers things like “you have to make a Valentine for every kid in class.” Or those birthday parties where it was clear that every child in the class got an invitation. And you went, even if you didn’t like the other kid, because that was just how elementary school went. This seems not to have been the case in my son’s previous school, where a lot of kids skipped out on one another’s parties, but the only show I’ve seen that deals with this was The Simpsons.
The fact is, being a kid means being surrounded by people who are just a part of your life, and even most shows about kids miss that aspect. Again, The Simpsons, but only for Bart, really. Oh, most shows have at least one episode where the kids have to interact with someone out of their social circle, and My So-Called Life was explicitly about different social circles in a lot of ways—presumably so was Freaks and Geeks, but I didn’t care for that show. But most episodes of Joan of Arcadia, in many ways a realistic show about high school, still might as well have had the halls and classrooms empty except for the main characters.
Another thing I talked to my son about yesterday was reasons I’m looking forward to his eventual safe return to the classroom. This was in part to convince him that I’m not just trying to get rid of him, though having time to myself was one of the reasons we discussed. But one of them was also that I’m looking forward to his being back in the social setting that doesn’t really exist in what he watches. Though, since he’s at a new school, he also has to make the friendships that will drive all his plots for a while.