A couple of weeks ago I spoke to an eighth grade class for Career Day. I hear they had fun though I doubt my presentation could have topped the police officer with the German Shepherd. The main thing I learned? Man, I really can’t talk to tweens. Shoulda realized this ahead of time, because:
- After marketing to tweens for two years, man, I really grew to hate communicating with tweens through email and forums. All the bad spelling and the magenta and that Tiger Beat lifestyle – It just made me lose faith in that entire pre-adolescent phase.
- Even in my college classes, I’d get feedback that my language was too over people’s heads. How could I possibly relate to thirty girls and their unironically Justin Bieber-obsessed lives?
So it was me and thirty thirteen- and fourteen-year old girls who didn’t know Alexanders Wang or McQueen, plus a male English teacher and an appearance by the event’s female organizer. There was a lot of yet unmatured estrogen in the room, and sounds not coming from me were questions from the adult figures and a murky cloud of quiet monosyllabic responses. Here I was sauntering onto campus thinking I had something cool to talk about – the present state of fashion marketing and how things trickle up and not just down anymore – and it was the toughest crowd I ever had. I thought back to my junior high days, and cannot believe that we were that awkward. I had a great time in junior high. Sure, I wore some pretty embarrassing outfits, but now I lovingly miss some of those clothes! Granted, I was the first presentation of the day, coming on the tails of a class trip to Washington, D.C. and standing between the girls and Spring Break, but still, the meekness of this new wave of young ladies surprised me. They were phenomenally shy until I started asking them what shows they watched and feigned complete ignorance about Pretty Little Liars. (I know it’s scripted and I know it’s based on a book series – Duh!)
The training bra years.
Looking at them while they were all seated (relatively) captive in their desks, I saw what I think makes “middle school” such a tough time for so many people. These girls were not all on the same level physically. For the two to three years spent in junior high or middle school, some girls were kids and some girls looked like freshman in high school. It’s the first time in our socialized human development where the levels of the proverbial playing field start shifting, and it has little to do with parents’ income. It just has everything to do with parents’ genes, and the transformations are entirely outward and can’t be faked.
Doing it for the kids.
On the drive to work I spent some QT ruminating on how my presentation wasn’t correctly geared for an audience that hadn’t all hit puberty yet. They weren’t of the age that an arts and crafts session would have been appropriate, but everything I had prepared was simply too high-level. They couldn’t tell me what they wanted to be when they grow up, because they’re just starting to figure themselves out and think outside of the boxes of their parents’ expectations.
A learning for the future.
I have never turned down an opportunity to speak in classrooms. I figure I’m lucky enough to not get painfully nervous in front of crowds, so it’s my duty. Even if I’m not a home-run with an entire group of people, I tell myself I can always be living proof to those within the communities that I represent that we can get to exactly where we want to go: female, Asian, monolingual – in creative, marketing, Web. With every educational speaking engagement that I make, I hope that I’m hitting home for someone, and that even though I’m not the pioneer of anything, I can serve as the tip of the iceberg as the breathing example of whatever they need to visualize their goals.
That all sounds lofty and very narcissistic, but I simply don’t want to let my lack of knowing my audience one time stop me from hitting up more classrooms.