Help me help an eleven-year-old find her own normal.
June 11, 2012 11:51 AM   Subscribe

She's not into what she thinks girls her age are "supposed" to be into. How do we show her that what she likes is what's normal, and maybe encourage her to reach out to find the other kids that like that stuff too? Is that what we should be doing?

My close friends and I refer to each other as "our people" and often bemoan the fact that it took us all until we were in college or later to find each other.

We all have children and stepchildren, who have all spent a lot of time together since they were babies and toddlers. The oldest of them has been growing away from the others for a year or two now. She's 11, finishing grade 5 this week, will be 12 in December. She's at an age where she's noticing that she's not "normal." As we all do at some point, especially during the hell of adolescence, especially if we're into good books instead of cute lip gloss.

I want to somehow help her onto the path where she will find HER people, and I'm hoping she can skip at least some of her awkward, outside-looking-in, nobody-gets-me years.

Her mom, my closest friend, emailed me today asking for ideas. I suggested you guys might have some, and she was all for it. So here goes.

She's really feeling lonely at school and uninterested in the typical stuff girls her age like. She and I talked for a long time about things she's "supposed" to like or know, and how she thinks a lot of it is stupid. She said she likes adults a lot more because they don't care about how she looks or what she reads or watches on TV. I am trying to be positive and tell her that she's a great person no matter what and that she likes what she likes, and she should be proud of herself and her interests. It's so hard seeing her go through this and not have self confidence.

She says she's interested in fantasy, mystery and made-up worlds because anything can happen in them. She thinks she's supposed to be interested in boys, makeup, boy bands, the Disney Channel, "who Taylor Lautner is dating", and the right clothes. She tried to describe some boy drama that [her friend's] friends were having, then just shrugged. "I don't understand it, Mom," she said. "And I'm not sure why I am supposed to care." She ackowledges that she likes the same music as kids her age, but she doesn't know anybody who reads the same kinds of books she does. She's struggling with not being interested in some of that stuff and feeling awkward or ignorant when it comes up in conversation or some dumb kid says, "You don't know who One Direction are?!?!? OMIGOD."

She's just so sad. She seems so pent up; I found her crying in the bathroom. I'm going to try to get her to figure out how to express her feelings more this summer. We talked a lot about finding your people, and how it takes time and patience. It's easier for some people, but everyone has a group somewhere. I also told her that she can and will have friends for different things, like school, Girl Scouts, band, video games, reading, etc. She says she likes going on YouTube and playing games because nobody cares what she looks like or what band she listens to.

I am trying like hell to help her avoid what I went through. I still have painful memories of that time in my life and how hard it was to dig myself out of the hole I was in. I want to cry every time I see her struggling with just being herself. As far as I know, she doesn't have a bully, so we have that going for us. I think she's confident enough to know that she's not interested in the "typical" teenage things, but she's just looking for her people. Part of me doesn't want her to fill her life entirely with all things books, video games, and fantasy, but that makes her happy, so who am I to judge? And I don't feel like I'm judging; I just want her to continue to try new things, even if they make her nervous. If I was an asshole parent, I'd sign her up for sports and force her to participate, which is what my dad did with me. I am grateful that we do share some interests, although I can't play a video game to save my life.

So far her mom and I have come up with some ideas:
- an older-kids reading group at the library
- a science fiction convention this fall (I've been to many and have wanted to take this kid to one since she was 7)
- an anonymous Tumblr
- her own private login on the family Mac with journaling software
- girl-positive, fantasy-positive webcomics like Girl Genius
- recommendations from our friend who runs a local manga/anime/comics club
- board-game nights at the local gaming store
- more time with us without her little sister and the other younger kids
- book-related events like the National Book Festival (we're near DC)

What've you got?
posted by kostia to Human Relations (97 answers total) 64 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Summer camp? Sounds like me as a kid to a T and I found "my people" at CTY.
posted by telegraph at 11:55 AM on June 11, 2012 [24 favorites]

Best answer: She's dealing with not being mainstream at an extremely judgy age. It's probably going to get worse unless she can find some people that share her interests. She sounds really mature, which is awesome, but can make it tough socially. Definitely a summer camp focused around her interests. I also wonder how big her school is -- if she's in a small school, there are going to be a narrower band of "normal" interests. If there are any area charter schools or the like, it might be worth it to have her attend there next year.
posted by DoubleLune at 12:00 PM on June 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Yes - camp, camp, camp. All of your ideas are great but the problem is, with the exception of the reading group, it doesn't sound like they will actually help her meet other kids her own age and spend time with them. It sounds like she will be spending a lot of alone/internet time and also be meeting adults, at the board game nights.

Camp. CTY is a great idea, or science camp, or something. Some kind of intellectually-oriented camp.

And then during the school year when it rolls back around, I think it would be best to find some after-school extracurriculars for her. Is there are drama company for kids in your area? I think that would be right up her alley. What about science competitions? And how does she feel about sports?

Also, is there any way to get her into another school, a more academically challenging one?
posted by cairdeas at 12:02 PM on June 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Maybe you could find her a good old fashioned pen and paper games with a group her age?

Around that age I wasn't into girly things either. I played all sorts of pen and paper games with my brother and his friends. Those are my best memories of being 12.
posted by Sweetmag at 12:06 PM on June 11, 2012

Best answer: Seconding summer camp. I went to nerd camps (Space Camp the summer after 5th grade, an environmental science program that harvested science nerds from all over the state the summer after 6th, astronomy camp the summer after 7th, a camp very similar to CTY after 7th, 8th, and 9th grades, and a medical camp the summer after 10th) all through my formative years. Nerd camps were where I found "my people". I didn't encounter "my people" again until I went to (a very, very nerdy) college.

These tend to cost a lot, since you stay on college campuses and actually take classes, but for me it was so worth it. I learned a lot AND I got to escape the doofuses I went to school with.
posted by phunniemee at 12:06 PM on June 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

I played my first game of D&D at summer camp, and it wasn't even selected for nerdiness. Finding one that caters to her interests in particular sounds like a great idea.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:07 PM on June 11, 2012

Nthing summer camp.

If she is academically gifted, this is a lot easier because there are a lot of summer programs out there and they tend to attract nerdy misfits. That said, if she's not academically inclined, she'll either not be eligible for this sort of thing or find the day to day activities at camp to be a total grind. Only a certain subset of preteens actually want to spend their summer vacation reading Shakespeare or learning trigonometry.

If she is into geeky stuff but maybe not super Gifted With A Capital G, what about space camp? I'm still mad that I didn't get to go to space camp. Even though I did get to go to nerdy Shakespeare camp.
posted by Sara C. at 12:07 PM on June 11, 2012

Best answer: Sounds a lot like the kid I was. Fan-fic was a solid way out of the misery for me, in a big way (and, hey, led me to be a pro writer, eventually, so there's that) because of the friendships I made in fandom--friendships I wasn't making in school. It would have also helped had my mom been willing to take me to SCA events and stuff like Dragon*Con when I really, really wanted to go. More Renaissance Festivals, too (though we went to quite a few). She might be interested in following book blogging or joining a site like Goodreads.

Really, the internet is the best answer for her. To a certain extent, I think what's likely somewhat necessary parental supervision is going to make it harder for her to connect meaningfully with those she finds, though, so it might also be time for mom to step back a little bit after a good talk about internet safety. She wants to connect meaningfully with other nerds, but [total] anonymity on sites like tumblr is going to make that hard.

Part of me doesn't want her to fill her life entirely with all things books, video games, and fantasy, but that makes her happy, so who am I to judge? And I don't feel like I'm judging; I just want her to continue to try new things, even if they make her nervous.

I don't know. My mom worried about stuff like this, too. But I'm just an obsessive person, and my obsessions have led to a great marriage and a happy creative career. I think it's more about letting her find social relationships within these obsessions than guiding her to other things you think she'll like. Because that's not really much different than what's going on with her in school. She's already getting a lot of "how you want to spend your time is wrong." She probably doesn't need even more of a mild form of that from her parents.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:09 PM on June 11, 2012 [8 favorites]

Oh bless her heart, and good on her mom for reaching out on this!

My first thoughts were like the others, namely camp. I went to arts camps in the summers and I had more in common with the kids there than I did with a lot of my friends at school. Most of these were in high school, but I'm sure they have ones her age.

Also, the DC area has to be teeming with workshop, afterschool programs etc that cater to kids who are interested in reading, fantasy, etc. I seriously envy kids these days sometimes what with the ability to connect with kids like them without having to essentially have a secret handshake.

Are there ways to find other kids like her online so that maybe she can skype with them (assuming of course major parental control until it is confirmed that this is a real kid, not some perv)?
posted by Leezie at 12:09 PM on June 11, 2012

Oh, also her mom should get her some Mercedes Lackey books, if she's into fantasy. Arrows of the Queen is about a bookish girl who is chosen by a magical horse to be a herald in a magical kingdom. Lackey's books are all about weird kids secretly being special. Narnia, The Dark is Rising sequence, Pern, Madeleine L'Engle's books, likewise. Those narratives really, really helped me as a kid. They'll probably help her, too.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:13 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: She's been to camp, sort of. Day camp run by the school system, and a week each summer at themed Girl Scout camp, which was great. CTY sounds incredible and amazing but things like that are probably unreachable financially. At least for now.

She is brainy, was invited to the city school system's gifted program starting in grade 3, but her parents decided against it for socialization- and transportation-related reasons. Another friend of ours has her daughter in it and there is a lot of extra travel time, unfortunately. Hoping the giftedness opportunities get better when she goes to the big consolidated middle school starting in grade 7.

I do see that we're mostly suggesting things to help her hone her interests, rather than meet her people. I think we fear that she will put aside the things she likes in favor of finding friends, and we hope to help her realize she doesn't have to do that. I know I sure as hell did that.

She would love good old-fashioned tabletop pen-and-paper gaming. We will ask at the game store about a game she could get into. I have goosebumps just thinking about introducing her to D&D!
posted by kostia at 12:14 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

One nice thing about the nerdy summer camp deal was that I made a bunch of friends who I could then email, IM, send postcards/care packages, etc. until next summer. Some of these folks are my friends on facebook 15+ years later!
posted by Sara C. at 12:17 PM on June 11, 2012

Nthing camp. (TIC Camp in DC is a good one, I worked there years ago and the woman who runs it is sensible. They have a mix of computers and sports and they are pretty good about being sure everyone is included in activities they like.)

And don't worry about the fantasy literature etc. I think this is exactly the age where you can read 20-book series and love them and remember everything about them. It's the same obsessive attention her peers are devoting to Teen Beat or whatever; it's going to be focused somewhere, best to let it be fantasy if that's what she likes. Be sure she's reading series that are reasonably female-positive. Terry Pratchett books are good; avoid Piers Anthony.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:18 PM on June 11, 2012

Also, is there any way to get her into another school, a more academically challenging one?

That probably won't change much. I was in academically challenging schools my whole life, and let me tell you - gifted kids can be just as shallow and judgmental as kids in less rigorous classes.

All of your ideas are great but the problem is, with the exception of the reading group, it doesn't sound like they will actually help her meet other kids her own age and spend time with them. It sounds like she will be spending a lot of alone/internet time and also be meeting adults, at the board game nights.
Yes to this! Camp is good because it will introduce her to a new group of people her own age. The reading group could be really good. The internet can also be a really good outlet. I sort of get the impulse to force her to play sports, but I also remember playing with girls who were forced like that and it wasn't fun for anybody. They hated it, their teammates never warmed, and it was just bad. I do think forced group activity could be good though (seriously useful socialization skills), so maybe something like drama or a writing club?

Definitely talk to the games store about events/game nights. My cousin, who was the lone nerd in his family, got really into WoW and MtG. He met a lot of his friends through the Magic tournaments he went to at the local games/comics store.

I remember when I turned 10, I had a hard time because I was painfully aware how unlike the other kids I was. In hindsight, I think my main problem was that I became self-aware earlier than my peers, and in a few years it was easier to find my cadre. Things definitely got better in junior high.
posted by kendrak at 12:18 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

It might be too late for camp this year, but it's definitely something to consider. Look for camps with a creative or intellectual focus rather than sporty outdoor camps. Note, however, that sometimes you don't find your people at camp, and that can be hellish since you're all alone for a week, and everyone else around you is having fun. You may want to start with a day camp rather than an overnight one.

Look into extracurricular activities that she might like and - this part is important - that don't have many kids from her school. This might mean a longer travel time, but it's worth it. That way she'll be in a social environment totally separated from the cliques at school. I took drama classes for years, and the kids there were pretty interesting.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:19 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you think she'd want a pen pal, I have one of those myself -- feel free to MeMail.

Nthing camp, board/card games. Mine also adores Lego League, when it's active around here. I'll wager it's much more active near DC. Also, I'll put in a vote for *very* low stress sports. I think it's a relief for mine sometimes to have all of it completely off the table.

You might also want to keep an eye out for Minecraft clubs -- the game is ubiquitous among kids of that age, and it's definitely a world in which anything can happen. It's tricky because you don't have to wander far before you get to Wild West of the Internet, but the DC area, it wouldn't surprise me if there's a club that meets at her library, or after school, or something like that.
posted by gnomeloaf at 12:21 PM on June 11, 2012

Response by poster: We've been wondering about Minecraft. She wants it bad, but I think her parents fear it will suck her into an online community full of grown-up dudes. I didn't realize there were real-world clubs for kids centered around it!
posted by kostia at 12:24 PM on June 11, 2012

Unless it's completely unfeasible for her parents, in my experience the access to gifted-kid world FAR outweighs a little extra commute time.

Seriously, for high school I ended up at a boarding school for gifted students on the other side of the state from my hometown. Was it inconvenient? Sure. Did it save my life? Absolutely.

I think I would have gone batshit suicidal insane if, in addition to the bullying and general misfit-related miserableness of my preteen/early teen experience, my parents had denied me access to a better situation simply because it was a few miles out of the way or whatever.

If this whole question gets to a point where it's not hypothetical anymore, her parents would be callous assholes to keep her out of gifted programs due to commute times. Especially in the name of "socialization"? WTF?
posted by Sara C. at 12:25 PM on June 11, 2012 [16 favorites]

I do see that we're mostly suggesting things to help her hone her interests, rather than meet her people. I think we fear that she will put aside the things she likes in favor of finding friends, and we hope to help her realize she doesn't have to do that. I know I sure as hell did that.

Thing is, if it goes too far in that direction, and she starts feeling too friendless, lonely, and outcast, this could really snap back in her teens. Especially if/when she wants to start dating. Out of desperation she could really just light a match to all the things that make her this wonderful kid you love, and become the most conformist teen ever just so she can finally have friends. I saw this over and over as a teen and it was heartbreaking, when the sweet, funny awesome girl you nerded out with over scifi last year, now won't even talk to you, is wearing gobs of mascara, sneaking out of the house at night to get drunk with the senior boys, etc.

I think THE thing that keeps nerdy girls confident in being themselves is having a lot of other nerdy girl friends.
posted by cairdeas at 12:26 PM on June 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

I was thinking of Space Camp, since I live near NASA Ames... I looked up Virginia, and found this:

I so wish there was something like that near me when I was a kid!
posted by waitangi at 12:27 PM on June 11, 2012

was invited to the city school system's gifted program starting in grade 3, but her parents decided against it for socialization- and transportation-related reasons.

And how did that work out? (also, the commute times were worth the effort)

More seriously, you have to meet kids "where they are" and work from there. And if they're at the point where fandoms are the forum in which they learn to make friends and develop social skills, then that's what you provide them opportunities to get involved in.

it doesn't have to be fandoms, but just some kind of common interest. Also, summer camps were huge for me, especially ones that were not in my home town (or home state), because I got to meet other people without the baggage of the ones I grew up around.
posted by deanc at 12:27 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: About the gifted program and the travel time: I may have put my foot in it on that one. I'm not her mom. I wasn't involved in the decision. My understanding of why she wasn't sent across town to the special gifted school program may not be complete or correct. Please don't focus on that.

Wonderful answers so far, and I just knew I'd find grownups on MeFi who had been this type of kid. Thank you all.
posted by kostia at 12:30 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wait, is she in Girl Scouts?

Can I suggest you take her out of that? This girl sounds a lot like me when I was her age. Girl Scouts were absolute torture for me, although I didn't realize it at that age. It made me shy and self-conscious because all the other girls loved all these things I didn't. It was very hard to be part of the group and I promise you there is a core group of overachiever and typical snobbish girls. This is especially amplified if she can't get good cookie sales.

You have no idea. Those cookies are evil and I don't care how much you like them: do not buy them. Take it from a former girl scout. The girl who sells the most cookies gets expensive nice prizes. That isn't the girl who usually works her butt off going door to door and standing at those tables in the supermarket, but the girl who's parents are well off and work in an environment where they can enlist coworkers to buy cookies. The workings of that though don't translate well down to little kids, so in the end all you have left is a girl who only sold a dozen or so boxes feeling bad because she couldn't sell more.

Girl Scouts did more to crush my self esteem then anything else in my life. I promise all that stuff about building confidence and strong independent women totally failed with me.
posted by royalsong at 12:33 PM on June 11, 2012 [21 favorites]

As someone for whom this question hits way too close to home, I'm here to report that close study of a year's worth of Seventeen magazine as an anthropological exercise at that age was not, in fact, helpful in connecting with my peers at school. Camp was okay, to a point, but I would've benefited from more attempts to connect with self-selected peer groups. (I did a few CTY one-day events, which were too short to really get to know anyone, and girl scouts, which was okay until everyone hit puberty, and similar to CTY, a three-week summer TIP thing, which I incorrectly selected for Outdoorsy Adventure as opposed to Likely Peer Group of Nerdy Kids.) Are there kid-focused or kid-friendly Meetup type events? It seems like the power of the internet to self-select for nerdier populations should help solve this problem. Otherwise: quizbowl, science competitions, robotics competitions, debate, etc., etc.
posted by deludingmyself at 12:36 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

If I was an asshole parent, I'd sign her up for sports and force her to participate, which is what my dad did with me

Wait, why is this such a bad idea? Sports, especially outside school, give her something to do while dealing with a completely different crowd of people.

We really need to stop believing that life is some kind of "books vs. sports" dichotomy. The mother may be bringing some of her own baggage to the table, here.
posted by deanc at 12:37 PM on June 11, 2012 [12 favorites]

Best answer: Its really hard at that age and at this time when everyone wants immediate gratification. And Lord knows, everything is better with drama and tears. My daughter kept up the facade of bubblegum pop culture until one day we walked into Hot Topic and that was it. She found her people. She loved the Goth culture. They were, and still are, good kids, with just a darker sense of humor. Me, I had a few friends that I clicked with on a couple things, but we weren't major besties. I didn't find my people until I was 30 and went to my first Civil War reenactment. Take her out to see and do. Festivals, reenactments, comic-con thingys, stuff the other posters have mentioned. Also, she needs to learn to be comfortable with herself, because at the end of the day. that's who's left.
posted by PJMoore at 12:38 PM on June 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

Royalsong, after discussing scouting with a lot of folks, I've come to the conclusion that it is so, so, so troop-specific. My troop became hell at around age 12-13. A friend's troop spend that age cheerfully playing Super Mario Bros at every meeting and saying screw it to badges and cookie sales.
posted by deludingmyself at 12:38 PM on June 11, 2012 [12 favorites]

You have to put her in a situation where she can start to find interesting and exciting things to do (and people to talk to) by herself. You can whisk her out of her normal school life for a week or weekend or whatever, but when that's over she still has to go back to the same boring school full of other kids who she doesn't click with, and nothing has changed.

I would go more for access to online games, the gifted program, and games and activities that she can do on a regular basis than taking her out to conventions and special events. That stuff is cool, but it doesn't necessarily make her more able to deal with her situation in a meaningful way.

Also, what does she want to do? What does she think about the gifted program, sports, etc? She's getting old enough to start exploring different interests on her own, isn't she?

Finally, meetup might be helpful.
posted by _cave at 12:38 PM on June 11, 2012

Best answer: Look, I was nearsighted and stubborn to a fault, so while some people may have accidentally discovered coordination via being forced to play sports, nothing was going to make me feel better about things flying at my head.

Stuff my mom did that didn't entail making me do things I didn't want to do:
1) Support my interests. I got obsessed with Jazz, wanted to learn to play the saxophone, and she GOT RIGHT UP IN THERE. I had lessons, I joined band, and I made friends.

2) Again, with supporting my interests: I was competitive in a lot of ways academically, but when it came to horses, which was a family thing, I was never forced to compete. I was allowed to have fun, and to have my horsey best friend. That kind of thing allowed me to make that decision about competition (ie, I didn't always have to be focused on WINNING SOMETHING) and also taught me a lot about respect, hard work, and partnering (because learning to partner with a horse is harder than learning to partner with a person). If she is at all interested in horseback riding, I knwo it's a huge stereotype, but it's seriously a great way to learn about your body in a not-team-sports setting as well as just plain old good for you.

3) Emphasize that this is not forever. I was pretty good at understanding that my school situation was not going to be forever. My mom emphasized with me, leaving high school your senior year will be like turning off a light. When you turn it back on again, it will be a brand new day. If this isn't fun, that's okay, just do a good job so that you can go where you want in college, which is where you will probably find your tribe anyway.

Good luck. I remember trying on all this stuff I was "supposed" to be interested in and I was moderately good at pretending. I look at it in retrospect as a sort of acting school.
posted by Medieval Maven at 12:45 PM on June 11, 2012 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: Her mom wasn't in Girl Scouts, but I was, for ten years. When we got to the age where we moved from Juniors to Cadettes (sixth or seventh grade, the age of the child in question), most of the cool girls quit and we were left with a self-selected nerd group. It was great. Grades 7 through 12 were the best times I had in Girl Scouts. I guess I'm hoping for a similar experience here. She seems to like it a lot, and cookie pressure seems very low.

About sports: She was asked to pick a physical activity last summer and picked fencing. She liked it overall but didn't enjoy the getting-hit part. She loves swimming.

I should have left out that bit about my friend's dad forcing her to play sports. That's part of a different story, and I'm sorry.
posted by kostia at 12:45 PM on June 11, 2012

Best answer: she still has to go back to the same boring school full of other kids who she doesn't click with, and nothing has changed.

For what it's worth, this was absolutely not my experience with nerd camp. As I said above, I made some lifelong friends there, and it was pretty easy to stay in contact during the school year via the internet.

And even if that doesn't help much, seriously, just knowing that there were people like me somewhere else in the world was a HUGE boost to my self esteem. Before I went to camp, I assumed that I was an absolute freak of nature. I didn't really know that there was this wider world of other kids at other schools getting into all kinds of stuff. After camp, my attitude about my personality and my geeky interests went basically from "I'm a freak, no wonder everyone hates me" to "I know about this cool thing you're too dumb to be interested in." Which was a pretty powerful shift.
posted by Sara C. at 12:49 PM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

I also have to add that it seems that many people are projecting their own interest in fanfic, D&D, and sci-fi conventions on to the child. (and the mother is definitely projecting her own dislike of team sports onto her) Just because she's unhappy with her current situation doesn't mean that she's going to fall into the stereotypical nerd-culture categories that we all know and love.

She was asked to pick a physical activity last summer and picked fencing. She liked it overall but didn't enjoy the getting-hit part. She loves swimming.

I was really into fencing and loved it. Swimming is competitive. How do you think she'd deal with that level of intensity? Would she rise to the occasion if challenged, or do you think she'd decompensate? That said, it might be worth trying getting her into some kind of swim-activity, such as lifeguard training.
posted by deanc at 12:49 PM on June 11, 2012 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I have anecdata in support of both camp & gifted programming...

From the late 80s through the early 90s, I commuted 60+ minutes in each direction, by inter-city bus from age 12 onwards in order to go to my region's nerdiest school and it was totally worth it for finding my people & building my confidence. Some people thought my parents were nuts bordering on negligent, but I was never frightened.

I also went to a non-nerdy summer camp run by my mainstream church that had limited resources but lots of love and bursaries for kids who couldn't otherwise afford it. The religiosity was minimal and extremely inclusive & accepting. I connected with my peers, but I also got to see older teens (counsellors and other staff aged 17-22) who appeared comfortable in their own skin, whether or not they knew who N'Sync were. Over the years, I went to 4 different camps, incl a day camp, and every camp is different, but sleep away is always a special experience. Not always 100% happy... I was lonely at camp just as I was lonely at school sometimes, but it was overall worthwhile.

I think your friend should continue to support her daughter to meet other kids whenever possible through things like Scouts/Guides, naturalist clubs (not the naked naturist people), library reading clubs or the museums. And invite potential friends to do other activities beyond the first connection whenever possible.

Children's musical or theater ensembles might be another avenue. That's where my friends who didnt know who N'Sync was did.

Finally, I ran into a couple hundred New Direction fans recently, and OMG, I had no idea what they we talking about, but I recognized their purpose instantly. But they didn't know who River Phoenix was, so who cares?
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 12:53 PM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: As other people have mentioned, summer camps are really great for making fast friends. However, don't feel as if the expensive academic focused ones are the only options. Really, if she's at a RESIDENT and all girls camp (this makes a lots of the boy drama and primping fall away- no electricity for hair dryers) she will make friends. The resident aspect is important because it becomes like a pressure cooker situation where your new best friend may be found in the first 2 days. Additionally there's stuff to hit SOMETHING she will like, archery, swimming, boating, hiking, arts and crafts, singing, campfires, outdoor cooking....

In general all these suggestions are good, but let me make one more that isn't activity related. Whatever group you have her in, try to find something that meets 2 or 3 times a week. Weekly activities are great, but friendships form a lot quicker when you have more time with the people.

Best of luck!
posted by raccoon409 at 12:54 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

I started babysitting when I was 11. It didn't help me find kids my age with similar interests, but it did a lot of positive things for me.

1) I had money (my money) to do with what I wanted. (And because I'm boring, I wanted to save it. But this came in handy when I turned 16 and was able to buy a car.)

2) Adults respected me. I lived in a small community, and word got around. I was a very responsible kid and a very good babysitter. Parents of other kids, teachers, and folks around the neighborhood knew who I was and were interested in getting to know me, and I had a lot more opportunities for non-work things (like, oh, we have extra tickets for [museum, play, whatever], I wonder who would appreciate them) presented to me because of it.

3) It gave me an "out" for not wanting to hang out with other kids, both to my parents and to my classmates. My parents would say things like, "why don't you ever hang out with so-and-so?" and I would say, "because so-and-so is a jerk," and they would say, "stop being such a snob." And kids in my class would say, "phunniemee is such a loser, she probably just sits at home and reads all weekend," (which, yeah, but suck my balls). But because I also babysat, I was actually working at least one night out of every weekend, frequently two. So, no, I can't go hang out with so-and-so because I'm working, and no, I wasn't sitting at home reading all weekend, I was working.

4) Being trusted enough to be in charge of actual human people is really empowering. I like the above answer about getting her into lifeguard training since she likes swimming. Looking into other Red Cross classes (CPR/First Aid, Disaster Response) might also be a good idea. In addition to the babysitting, I also volunteered a lot--I didn't make many friends my age that way, but it did make me feel good about myself.
posted by phunniemee at 1:07 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Ha, I was going to bring up fencing. That was something I begged my mom to do as a fantasy-obsessed 12 year old but we could never afford. Archery might be good, too. Bows and arrows, hells yeah, plus you don't get hit with anything.

I think so much of this is situation-specific, and nerd-interest specific. I was a book and game nerd. But I had no interest in science, and 3/4 years I went to residential camp, I was miserable (because it was the same sort of snotty-seeming girls there that I had to deal with at home).

But I just want to reiterate that I think it might be time for the parents to start teaching her 'net smarts but stepping away in their paranoia about those she might beet online. Because, again, it's the best way for her to research her own interests and meet like-minded teens. Also, don't be surprised if at some point she ends up getting into some sort of goth (or is it "emo" now?) or punk subculture. A lot of the geeky kids I know did, because it was a way for them to take ownership over their weirdness.

You might have her mom read Jo Walton's Among Others for her to understand a little better where her kid is coming from (the kid, too, but it depends on her maturity. There's some sexytimes). It's pretty much like a perfect account of growing up geeky, and a great illustration (as Walton's life is), that one day she'll find her karass.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:12 PM on June 11, 2012 [5 favorites]

Just jumping in to nth CTY! It saved my dorky soul as a kid. I looked forward to summer always, to classes, to kids who were more "like me" and American Pie will be a song that always touches my heart (always the last song during our dances).
posted by anya32 at 1:13 PM on June 11, 2012

I was also just this kind of kid, though in England, so I am not sure I will have any useful suggestions with regard to school/camps. But I found my people in roller derby. Is there a junior league in her area? (none that I can find in VA, unfortunately, but if she's based somewhere else maybe...)

(For me, at that age, I was lucky enough to find a best friend at school who was into cool music and we just hung out together and looked down on everyone else with their pop music and their fashion obsessions - having school uniform helped with this I'm sure. Also I'm kind of a loner so not having a big group of people didn't bother me. Summer camp I would have found very stressful.)
posted by corvine at 1:14 PM on June 11, 2012

Best answer: These years are hard. I was a bookish kid with no athletic ability, who liked Star Trek and musicals. I found "my people" in the gifted and talented classes, and the school theatre productions. A LOT of bookish, fantasy-loving nerdy kids gravitate towards theatre. She doesn't need to act, she could help with costumes or the set. Other activities that tend to be sanctuaries for the nerdy: yearbook club, school newspaper, Destination Imagination or Odyssey of the Mind, language clubs, band or orchestra.

If she's interested in Japanese culture at all, she might find a lot of friends in an age-appropriate Japanese language class. They can have a lot of budding young manga or anime enthusiasts who often have crossover interests in fantasy, video games, and sci-fi. Same with drawing, animation, or writing classes.

Sports might be worth trying. But stick to sports that emphasize the individual, instead of the team. I hated sports like softball or volleyball because it was me + a gaggle of athletically gifted popular girls who glared at me when I awkwardly dropped the ball, costing them a point. NOT a confidence builder. She might be interested in archery, if she's a Hunger Games fan. I had fun with martial arts when I was her age.
posted by castlebravo at 1:14 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I noticed at a quite early age that people behave differently in one-on-one situations than in groups. Some of the people I know to be delightful, insightful friends can be oblivious boors when in the company of other people. I can only shudder to think of how much of the boyband, makeup and clothes talk is actually each girl desperately trying to prove herself to the group. Take the audience away, and suddenly her peers might change their tune.

So maybe she might like to spend time with her peers on an individual basis?
posted by Liesl at 1:18 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Okay, so first she should read this book because I get the feeling she'll identify with the main character.

I was this kid. I'm still sort of this kid. I didn't really find people I clicked with until I was fourteen. I spent most of middle school miserable or faking sick so I could stay home. If she's still sort of noncomformist when she's older (like 7th or 8th grade), start seeing if her district or county has magnet high schools. It's easier to find people you click with, even though some of the usual conformist folks are still there.

Does she knit or cross stitch or anything like that? My nonconformist friends in high school were mostly knitters. It's something to do when you feel uncomfortable in a social situation, and it's a conversation-starter. Plus you get a cool thing out of it!

Is she into playing music? Help her do that. Also nthing Minecraft. Has she ever been exposed to programming? She might like it, and it'll hook her up with other nerdy kids. If she likes anime or punk/goth stuff, encourage it! Activities outside of school can help you forget about how awful it is.

I loved baby CTY (which was for younger people; you took a test other than the SATs). Regular take-the-SAT-and-you're-in-CTY was no fun because it was full of kids whose parents forced them to go. EPGY was great, though. CTY has a scholarship program, in case the cost is an issue.

And if all else fails, you can always get her a Metafilter account.
posted by topoisomerase at 1:20 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

One more thing: if an activity really isn't working for her, allow her to drop out. She should give new things some time to take root, but there's no reason for her to keep going to a club she doesn't like to "socialize" with people she doesn't really get along with.

This can happen with classes or groups that she's gone to for years: as the members grow older, their interests and social dynamics change. I stayed in Girl Scouts a year after it stopped being fun; it just didn't cross my mind that I could quit. I still enjoyed my drama classes when I decided to quit, but I was comfortable and busy enough at school that I didn't really need them like I had in previous years.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:20 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

I guess I am the only one but I found CTY really isolating (though this was BACK IN THE DAY, I have no idea what it would be like now). I didn't really connect with anyone, didn't stay in contact with anyone, and felt very off my game the whole time. And it felt like such a kick in the teeth because I'd been promised that here, here I would meet my people.

Anyway, I was freaking miserable in middle school. I was interested in books and music and things but I also *desperately* wanted to know how to put on makeup and curl my bangs* but I was ashamed to admit it because that kind of stuff was shallow and silly and I was SERIOUS and SMART.

*which was the style at the time
posted by mskyle at 1:28 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

I second church camps and youth groups. If there is a Unitarian Universalist church in the area, or other liberal-leaning non-dogmatic religious organization, and if her parents are open to the idea, I encourage them to look into the youth group especially as she gets older. I never went to any kind of nerd camp, but the UU youth retreats and summer camps I went to throughout high school were transformative, wonderful, self-affirming experiences for me.
posted by LeeLanded at 1:29 PM on June 11, 2012

Best answer: Metafilter, can we send this girl to nerd camp? I've got $10 I can throw in.

I was just like this at her age, only far less self-aware than she sounds. I think helping her find her people (who are her age) would do wonders for her. Please continue to encourage her to pursue her own interests - whatever they happen to be.

Crying in the bathroom, eh? Maybe that's normal, and lots of kids do it - but I did a lot of that at that age, too, and by 15 I was cutting myself. Maybe she would benefit from a way to express her feelings. I think therapy would have helped me a lot. Your mileage may vary. But that teenage disconnect was seriously, definitely hard for a sensitive kid like me.
posted by woodvine at 1:35 PM on June 11, 2012 [6 favorites]

I havent read all the answers ... but she sounds a lot like I was at that age.

I started playing chess when I was 11, and I found my people at the local chess club.

Yes, there are plenty of older men, but there's also a thriving scholastic chess scene, and I wound up traveling all over the state for tournaments. Not to say that travel is necessary - I had access to lots of local tournaments, plus various weekly scholastic and mixed-age-group club meetings. I don't play anymore, but those clubs were the first place I felt comfortable being social....I found it to be a welcoming, supportive community. My mom really helped me to get into it - once she realized that I liked the game, she got involved with running the local club, and eventually convinced me to give it a try, even though she didn't play at all.

NB - unless things have changed drastically, it's skewed pretty heavily towards boys, especially as the kids get older. I was always, and still am, the nerdy girl whose friends are almost all guys.
posted by Metasyntactic at 1:41 PM on June 11, 2012

Youth groups can be great. I was never bought up any religion of any sort, but my first discovery that "my people" was a thing was with the local Christan youth groups. They were a bit dorky, safe places to interact with people of the opposite sex in a non pressure lets be friends kind of way. We just socialized, but it was in a sort of controlled setting so a lot of the pressure to be cool was removed. We moved a lot growing up and I went to 4 different ones over the years even though neither my family or I ever went to the churches in any other way. Even though I am a confirmed agnostic now I have nothing but happy memories of those groups as a place I got to be me out of the pressure of the school environment.
posted by wwax at 1:41 PM on June 11, 2012

Best answer: Anyway, I was freaking miserable in middle school. I was interested in books and music and things but I also *desperately* wanted to know how to put on makeup and curl my bangs* but I was ashamed to admit it because that kind of stuff was shallow and silly and I was SERIOUS and SMART.

Oh gosh, mskyle brings up a really, really good point. I imagine this has as much to do with me and my weirdness as it did with my parents (my mom and grandma wanted me to be more girly, my dad was thrilled that I was a tomboy nerd), but I had HUGE hangups about doing girly, popular-seeming things.

I was never into the fancy hair or makeup, but I (blessed with my dad's genes for hair growth) wanted desperately for someone to show me how to tweeze my eyebrows, or for my mom to give me the go ahead for shaving my legs, or to be able to admit that I had crushes on ALL THE BOYS without it meaning that I wasn't also a smart and responsible kid. But instead, I hid. I stole my mom's razor to shave my legs and always wore pants at home, and I tweezed my eyebrows in what I now know was a very, very wrong way for years, and I made hilariously bad attempts to hit on the cute nerdy boys at camp because god forbid I actually do any of this publicly where other people can see it and think less of me for it. And even though I didn't listen to Backstreet Boys or NSync, my little brother did, but I would rather have died the death of a thousand firey suns than admit that I actually knew the words to all their songs. Whenever my mom (or anyone) would ask if I liked any of the boys in my class (or any boys, period), my answer was always "NO, NO I DON'T, BOYS ARE DUMB," which definitely didn't think, but felt like I had to say because otherwise I'd be letting everyone down.

It wasn't until actually very recently as an adult that I got over it and became OK with wearing skirts or the color pink. I even got my ears pierced and wear earrings from time to time. I know. The point is, make sure she knows it's OK to like to do things that the other girls/kids do. She doesn't have to like all of the things, she doesn't even have to like any of the things, but that no one (not her parents, not anyone) is going to think less of her--think that she's less smart, or less special, or less responsible, or less "adult"--if she does. I think if someone had sat me down and told me that when I was 10, I would have been a much more socially well-adjusted kid.
posted by phunniemee at 1:43 PM on June 11, 2012 [34 favorites]

Best answer: she said she likes adults a lot more because they don't care about how she looks or what she reads or watches on TV.

This is good. And the answer to this concern is: more adults! Trivia night at the local pub if they'll let her join a team. Reading groups/clubs that include books she thinks she'll like. Volunteering with Habitat for Humanity in a non-buildy capacity, adult literacy training, CPR classes, life guard training, bird watching groups, canoeing, historical preservation. Something that grownups do that is not centered around lip gloss.

Because honestly? This is the only time in her life when anyone expects her to be close to/engage with so many people who are in such a small age range. Once she gets to and through college it will be necessary for many of her peers to learn to interact with adults of all ages in a variety of settings. Give her the gift of getting that out of the way. Let adults be her peers now so she doesn't have to struggle to figure it out later. Get her out to comic conventions or dungeons and dragons or whatever it is she is interested in. Bring her to author readings for books she has devoured.

Have her try her hand at some of the online free Yale or Stanford courses in literature or history or whatever. Maybe she'll love a math one, who knows?

But most importantly, continue to teach her that if she doesn't like people, or even just has a weird feeling about them, she is not obligated to hang out with them just because they are in authority/have the same interest/are her age/seem to like her/have lots of other friends. She seems to get this already, but it's really important for all kids to learn and practice this sooner rather than later.

I would also let her know that it is very very ok to like these things, the lip gloss and the pretty dresses and the developing crushes (on whoever you crush on, boys or girls or both!) and the watching vapid movies. It's important that she knows that these things may change about her, but they might not either. And that either way, it's perfectly normal. She doesn't need to pigeon hole herself forever. Identity is malleable!

If she wants to have friends her age who are "her people" (it's unclear from the wording of the question if this is the case), have her join academic bowl type activities. I have no idea what they are called. I'd have joined one, except my family life was too unstable. What saved my nerdy little life was joining the debate team in High School. Those were my people and I am grateful nearly every day that I had them. There are other options for kids. Family centered outdoor things - like the canoeing I mentioned above. Check meetup for family focused activities. (And be aware that the kids who are her people might not have
parents who are "your people," but you have to find things to bond with the parents over.)

It might help, also, to remind her that her job here is raising an adult. I know we tell each other that we're raising children, but when her job is done, she'll hopefully be unleashing a competent, confident, brave and funny woman onto the world's stage. Not a girl.
posted by bilabial at 1:50 PM on June 11, 2012 [5 favorites]

I don't know if this is an activity, exactly, but I think I would have loved being a Nerdfighter when I was in middle school.
posted by the_blizz at 1:51 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: New Moon Girls Online! I recommend this all the time for girls who are looking for their people, but who haven't found them yet in real life. It's a safe, well-moderated space filled with girls her age who are into all kinds of things.
posted by atropos at 1:51 PM on June 11, 2012

Nthing church-based youth groups, camps, and activities. I wasn't so much into this -- probably because I found my tribe among the nerdy lit/theatre geeks at camp -- but my nerdy brother and a lot of my geek fellow travelers really enjoyed that sort of thing. Including people who did not grow up to be that religious. It's just a nice, structured activity that tends to attract kids who are a little more thoughtful and less into material stuff or looks or whatever.

That said, I know more than one nice nerdy kid who got sucked into culty/fundamentalist religion that way, so I would tread carefully and definitely try to choose a mainstream sort of group rather than whatever bible thumping band of Evangelical god botherers is closest to their house or whatever.
posted by Sara C. at 2:00 PM on June 11, 2012

Trivia night at the local pub if they'll let her join a team.

This might fly in Britain, but homegirl is barely halfway old enough to legally be inside a bar in most of the US. At the very least, her parents will be looked at oddly if they live in a smallish town that has a mainstream middle-class middle-American "values" oriented vibe. In the US this would maybe just barely be allowed in certain bars in some major cities, if the parents were present and participating alongside the kid.

It would probably be more appropriate for them to look at Quiz Bowl teams (this is usually a school-sponsored thing) and similar activities at the local library.

My hometown has their "pub trivia" at the town library rather than in a bar. Maybe look for something like that? While people might look funny at a twelve year old kid wanting to compete with the adults, at least it's not inside a bar where the assumption is that everyone is getting wasted.
posted by Sara C. at 2:09 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Regarding Minecraft:

A local group of folks her own age would probably be your best option, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention MeFightClub. We are a Metafilter-offshoot of (generally) adult gamers who plays lots of things - and we maintain at least one active Minecraft server at all times. We have a number of players who are female, and a number of under-18s on the server as well. We don't necessarily censor our chat or our conversation topics, but it sounds like that wouldn't be a problem. Feel free to poke around on our forums, or MeMail me for more information. I've had a hard time in life finding "my people" - one of the few places I've succeeded is at MFC.
posted by lholladay at 2:12 PM on June 11, 2012

The DC 'burbs are a hard place to be anything but normal. I moved here in my late 30's and even at the ripe old age of 42, I feel like the weird girl 99% of the time. And I am not even that weird. I know you've told her about how it takes time to find your people. But really, keep on telling her. It might not sink in the first few times.

Also, are there any homeschool groups that do cool stuff that she could be part of? There are lots of homeschoolers in this state. Maybe some of the more interesting families have opted for the homeschool route. Just talking to a homeschool family might give you ideas.
posted by selfmedicating at 2:20 PM on June 11, 2012

Actively happily seconding what lholladay said about MeFightClub and our Minecraft server.
posted by komara at 2:25 PM on June 11, 2012

(also promoting MeFightClub as a place to talk about D&D games and any other game you can think of)
posted by komara at 2:26 PM on June 11, 2012

Does she know about rookie? (

By teen girls, for teen girls, in a non-stupid way. I wish I'd had it when I was a teenager.
posted by tuesdayschild at 2:26 PM on June 11, 2012 [5 favorites]

Girls Leadership Institute.
posted by TrixieRamble at 2:33 PM on June 11, 2012

Best answer: As we walked around TCAF (Toronto Comic Arts Festival), my eight-year old daughter looked around and said "Often it seems that really creative people are really really nice." She got meet the people who created the worlds she immersed herself in when she reads, and was inspired to create more often herself. She met people of all ages, guys and girls, who fit no stereotypes and who were thoroughly and completely interesting and who treated her well. She ran into neighbourhood people we never would have guessed were into the same things, because it just would never come up in the course of a school day. She also wandered around with spending money and found a whole bunch of amazing things to read that really expanded her thinking. Since a lot of the artists process their experience via their work, she really loves seeing others' experiences in this way - she feels less weird herself. (And we received a great introduction to this world via Ask - thanks, everyone)

If your friend's daughter is into webcomics and putting things on paper, this might be the perfect milieu for her (too). Raina Telgemeier's SMILE was something my daughter really responded to, after meeting her, attending some of her workshops at the event (like how to tell a story in a one-page webcomic), and reading it. Aside from the focal events in the book around her character's "smile" - (spoiler) she realizes that the people she thought were her friends are people she doesn't really like, and after some time on her own, finds a new crew of like-minded people. Locally we have comic book camps - is there something near you? One of our local comic book shops has a book club too. It's a great outlet, and we're really enjoying the community and how it reaches across distances. Connecting with just a few artists leads us to find more and more.

Here's a great-looking small press expo (SPX 2012) in September that I think is near you? I see Kate Beaton is there, and she's pretty cool. They've got some good programming and the website is really well done so there's a lot to explore between now and then. Volunteering at an event like this is something I can see us doing in a few years.

I'll also mention CISV - there's a chapter in Washington - I don't know if anything is closer. But we know several families with kid who are involved in this (their children started at 11 - and we really like these kids who are now 14-18 and have stayed with it, and have met lots of their CISV friends and visitors) and in a few years we will likely join in ourselves.
posted by peagood at 2:33 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: peagood: SPX is definitely on my list. I hadn't thought about bringing the kid to it but I think I might! Thanks.

Thanks to everyone for the many answers since I last thanked you. Overwhelming appreciation.
posted by kostia at 2:38 PM on June 11, 2012

CTY does offer financial aid, so please don't rule it out based on the sticker cost. Earlier comments note that some students go because their parents made them go; for this reason I'd recommend taking humanities classes that don't have a school analogue rather than math or science classes.

(On the other hand, I took biology classes and still met plenty of "my people", although more outside of my classes. If she's very interested in math or science, don't let that stop her from taking them!)

[Speaking with the bias of my own experience], I think theater would be great for her--it tends to attract quirky people, and a girl who loves fantasy, mystery and made-up worlds is likely to especially enjoy it. Also seconding church youth groups and (non-fundamentalist) homeschool groups.

The most important thing, though, is to keep trying--keep giving her opportunities to meet new people (both peers and adults) until she finds the people she clicks with, who may be in completely unexpected places.
posted by beryllium at 2:41 PM on June 11, 2012

My eldest daughter is 11 and will be 12 in January, so pretty similar ages. She actually loves Oblivion/Skyrim and I introduced her to Minecraft (on the Xbox) yesterday. She loved it.

If this child lives in or near Portland, OR, let me know. She and my daughter could be friends. :-)
posted by tacodave at 3:08 PM on June 11, 2012

CTY (with financial aid) saved my middle-school bacon. Fifth through seventh grades were tough, but going to CTY the summer before eighth grade made it possible to not hate myself or my classmates until high school started. It didn't make adolescence easier, exactly, but it helped me get some distance from the social nonsense at school.

It was around 10 or 11 that I was allowed to visit the library by myself, and check out pretty much whatever I wanted. The combination of a bit of physical freedom (it was a small town, I was allowed to walk there by myself) and intellectual freedom was great. I did end up reading some stuff that was fairly age-inappropriate, looking back, but it all pretty much went over my head. Getting that small degree of freedom from my family helped me feel a bit better about this awkward growing up thing that was happening.

The great thing about books is not only that they were an escape, but they were an opportunity to observe people who weren't demanding anything of me, and they helped me build the vocabulary and sophistication of expression needed to get older people to take me seriously. So personally, I don't think her mom should worry too much right now about filling her life up with books and games and fantasy.

(P.S. If you haven't already, you might want to check out Labyrinth.)
posted by EvaDestruction at 3:10 PM on June 11, 2012

Nthing more adults.....are there local programs that pair seniors with kids?
posted by brujita at 3:25 PM on June 11, 2012

I have a daughter exactly the same age. (Seriously, what day in December? Mine will be 12 on the 10th!) She's not the brainy type, but she loves fantasy and geeky things. PLEASE Memail me and they can Skype or be Snail Mail penpals!!

Please, my daughter is in a very similar position except that she doesn't have the brainy-ness to fall back on. We had to change schools because the bullying got so bad. A friendly pen-pal who would talk about fairies and dragons with her would be so helpful!
posted by TooFewShoes at 3:33 PM on June 11, 2012 [6 favorites]

The DC 'burbs are a hard place to be anything but normal.

Actually, I think this is one of the great advantages you have in DC - there are SO many nerd families. Parts of the DC burbs are the highest educated parts of the country, with lots of parents with graduate degrees who have moved to DC to work for the government or for contractors or lobbyists, etc, and so you have lots of pockets of kids who are encouraged to study and be nerdy and so on. There are a lot of nerdy-girl fish in the sea near DC - it's just a matter of trying a lot of different meeting-other-kids activities until you find a few friends in that category. For this, driving further into the inward suburbs might be useful if you find that you're in a too-exurban area.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:43 PM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

I would love to also praise camp. Not only did I find nerdy girls and a safe place to be as weird as I like, I loved that I learned to like normal people.

The girl who is obsessed with lip gloss probably also secretly loves some nerdy comics. Being the resident "weird girl", people would come up to me with their secrets, like not totally buying into God, an OCD obsession with office supplies, or a love of books that surpassed my own.

It's easier to deal with High School when you're secretly convinced that all those normal girls who make you feel so weird are all a bit jealous you have the courage to be weird 24/7, while they read fantasy novels hidden in the cover of a Tiger Beat magazine.

And who knows. Maybe normal people really exist. But camp forced me to look beneath the surface of people, instead of just gazing deep into my own navel and thinking that I'm the only person who has thoughts and feelings and special snowflakeness.
posted by politikitty at 3:59 PM on June 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

Congrats - you just described my daughter.

No solutions yet - other than to validate that this is just a short-term thing, and that frankly she can simply ignore what other people in her school think.

Camp? Sure... Find a nerdy camp... Photography camp, Animation Camp, Game Programming Camp, etc...

Oh... and our personal, kid-friendly (no griefing) Mincraft server that she admins is: - and she would also love a nerdy penpal - send me a memail here if interested.
posted by jkaczor at 4:13 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Minecraft not mincraft - sigh.
posted by jkaczor at 4:14 PM on June 11, 2012

My nerdy daughter found her tribe in band, which started at around age 11, if I recall correctly. Now at 16, she takes great delight in calling herself a Band Geek.

Seconding the idea that the nerdiness factor of Girl Scouts is very troop-dependent. The troop I lead would rather sit around and talk about boys, OMGWTF??? Is she into the STEM subjects at all? The national GS organization is making a big push into STEM-related programs. The troops in Chicago are currently being encouraged to form Lego League teams over the summer, and the teams don't have to be all girls from one troop.

If the troop your friend's daughter is in isn't into the same things she is, investigate switching troops, even if it means driving a little farther occasionally.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 4:26 PM on June 11, 2012

Best answer: Have you thought about local community theatre? It tends to have sort of a summer camp environment but it lasts all year, with kids that will be around locally.

I loved doing community theatre when I was younger because I got to hang out with kids of all ages, and kids who went to different schools.

A lot of community theatres (especially children's theatres) have their own summer camps. That could potentially be great because then if she enjoyed it, she could come back and audition for one of their shows and probably recognize some familiar faces.

If she isn't too keen on the idea of auditioning, ask them if she could work backstage or with painting or making props. There's always something they need help with.

Kids who've grown up in community theatre tend to be more mature because they're working with and around older kids and adults. They also tend to have niche interests. I bet that she would fit right in.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 4:31 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Lots of folks are suggesting new things to attend, but I want to give a suggestion for her current school situation (but I guess it's summer vacation now?? so maybe for next year...).

If she has been with the same group of kids since early grades, it may seem like the friendship groups have all formed and she can't really change them. You should stress to her that she can, if she wants to. So I am suggesting a science project: Take a look at every single kid in the class, one at a time. See if you can tell who they hang out with, what kind of things they like to do, who they sit with at lunch, how they answer questions in class, etc. Spend a few days or a week looking at each individual, and really look at them as individuals. Talk to them, if that seems ok to her; ask them what books they like to read or what games they like to play.

It's very possible that she may find another kid in her class that is feeling frustrated with the others in the class and who likes the same things that she likes. It is possible that she may make a whole new set of friends. And, contrary to every pre-teen movie, there is more than just one group of kids that is worthwhile to try to join.
posted by CathyG at 4:42 PM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Perhaps encourage her to read blogs like The Mary Sue (subtitled A Guide to Girl Geek Culture) -- or have her parents curate the posts, if they prefer) so she can see how widespread it is for women to be interested in the very things she's interested in.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 5:49 PM on June 11, 2012

posted by mlis at 5:59 PM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

About sports: She was asked to pick a physical activity last summer and picked fencing. She liked it overall but didn't enjoy the getting-hit part. She loves swimming.

I am a total sports homer, so take my advice with a grain of salt that it comes from that perspective, but in my admittedly anecdotal experience, running, particularly cross-country, is a huge sport for nerds. Like, they are just the nerdiest, geekiest, weirdest people you could ever hope to meet. They self-selected out of team sports, either because they stunk at them or because they hated doing stuff in groups, and into a sport where you get a lot of time to think (about yourself, or life, or Lord of the Rings, or fanfic, or whatever) out in the woods. It's also a sport that is really welcoming to beginners/not-so-talented athletes because you can compete and do your best and beat your own times. Unlike in team sports, one athlete competing badly doesn't hurt anyone else, so she'll never have to warm a bench and no one is going to be angry with her for being slower (if she is). Depending on the culture of the team in her school, it could be great for her.

Track and field in the spring attracts a slightly more diverse group because a lot of team sport athletes use it to stay in shape for their team sports, but if her cross country peeps are there, it could be fun. There's a lot of hanging around doing your homework outside (or reading, in this kid's case, if that's her bag) at the meets.

I'm not as familiar with swimming culture, so I can't say if a swim team would be a good or bad fit for her.

There might be team sports that are good for her (maybe volleyball? most kids don't start volleyball until about 11.), but the combination of having to learn physical skills and hurting the team if you aren't good at the physical skills right away can be a real blow to a fragile, socially-marginalized kid. It really depends on the culture of each team at the school.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 6:14 PM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: A really great thing would be a nerdy, comfortable-in-her-skin teenager (like, in the 16-20 range, say) who likes her and enjoys spending time with her. Adults are great for nerdy kids, but it's really, really validating to know that a cool, older GIRL thinks you are neat, who was literally JUST in your shoes and can talk to you girl-to-girl about navigating these things and is NOT parent or adult who is clearly going to tell your parents things. Even if this is a babysitter or a tutor, that's fine, just make sure they get an extra bit of time at the end of tutoring sessions or whatever to just hang out.

Also, on the pop culture front, might she be interested in a blog like Vulture? (which actually covers a lot of the sci-fi/fantasy nerd pop culture!) I am not particularly interested in listening to pop music, but I am interested in reading ABOUT pop music in small doses. I do not really understand what a Justin Bieber is, but I totally know when he changes his hair because it's on the pop culture blogs. The analysis makes it interesting and the snark makes it amusing. (I actually have no idea if Vulture is tween-appropriate, having never thought about it before this moment, so check first.)

"She's at an age where she's noticing that she's not "normal.""

I hate this phrasing; she is 100% normal. (76 answers normal!) In fact, I think she's precociously normal, having realized well ahead of most of her peers two really important facts of life that everyone has to figure out to become a self-actualized adult: 1) People need people; it's important to have friends and have people value you; and 2) Liking the things you like is cool; liking the things other people like because you're supposed to like them is lame. (But, as someone said above, it's okay to actually like what other people like; you don't have to ONLY like the things nobody else likes. Except the one-eyed stray cat nobody else likes; you're morally obligated to like it because it needs someone to love it. I have had three.) Being enthusiastic about the things you like is awesome.

And she already knows that compromising on #2 for more of #1 is not worth it.

Wynton Marsalis said, "Invest yourself in everything you do. There's fun in being serious." I used to (and still) recite this to myself as a bit of a mantra, because the truth is I had (and have) great fun throwing myself into things and doing the CRAP out of them, and I was not alone. Enthusiasm is fun! It makes you interesting! And Wynton Marsalis would think you are cool, and he is super-cool, so by the transitive property of cool, you are cool.

(Also she should read Tamora Pierce's Tortall books, which deal a lot with girls struggling to find their place with peer groups that initially freeze them out, especially Kelandry.)

"At the very least, her parents will be looked at oddly if they live in a smallish town that has a mainstream middle-class middle-American "values" oriented vibe. "

No way, dude, in lots of small-down middle America, the only place that serves food after 2 p.m. is a bar. There's ALWAYS kids in the bar if I go before 9 p.m. unless it's a dance club. I think it's big-city characteristic to ban them! Small towns and neighborhood bars always have kids in them. Even babies.

posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:17 PM on June 11, 2012 [6 favorites]

Volunteering (one or a few days per week) might be one avenue for her to spend time following her interests and interacting with people - maybe kids, maybe adults.

Some volunteering options: Hanging out with seniors at nursing homes is cool if you have the right temperament and want to hear stories, but there's also cat cuddling at the animal shelter, giving tours or working in the office of a local museum or garden, literacy programs...

The benefits are that she'd interact with a less shallow population, gain skills and confidence, and have a ready 'out' when the other kids are inclined to barbaric teasing.
posted by janell at 8:18 PM on June 11, 2012

One more vote for reconsidering the gifted thing. I was a fairly miserable misfit throughout school but would have been much more so if I hadn't been tracked into the gifted program.

Also another vote for encouraging interest in an individual sport. Even if it doesn't help her connect with 'her' people, running or swimming can be really helpful on any number of levels; including that it takes a lot of time, and thus cuts down on the hours when she has to interact with a bunch of twits. Sport is especially helpful if the girl ends up being good (and just about anyone can be good at swimming at a high school level). Jock / athlete is an identity that the non-nerdy kids can understand and respect, and less negative social pressure might make for more happiness.
posted by genug at 8:50 PM on June 11, 2012

especially if we're into good books instead of cute lip gloss.

It's possible and okay to be into both. My daughter blossomed once she went to all girls high school.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:02 PM on June 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

You've gotta look at alternative schooling. Are there any Jr. High schools in your area with an arts magnet or science magnet program? Maybe there are some private schools that cater to kids like her. If you think you can't afford private school, you might be surprised by what you can find in the way of sliding-scale or "scholarship" type stuff, even at that grade level.

Hit the pavement and go check 'em out - I have 2 kids, and one step-kid who would have just withered in a generic public jr. High program, and we found them all great alternatives.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:15 PM on June 11, 2012

Best answer: beryllium suggested taking humanities classes at CTY, but a lot of the kids whose parents had forced them to go were in the writing classes. The people I liked were actually all taking science and tech courses. Seconding what mskyle said about how regular CTY was isolating. EPGY and baby CTY were nicer. This was seven or eight years ago, though, so maybe things have changed.

When I was between 11 and 14 or so, Threadless shirts were pretty much what I lived in, once I got over my embarrassment over the whole puberty thing and started wearing shirts that actually fit me, instead of my dad's sweatshirts. Everyone else at the time was wearing like, Abercrombie and Hollister, which I wasn't interested in and didn't even look good on me.

I also wasn't interested in girly stuff when I was that age. My mom still showed me how to put on eyeliner and stuff though, which came in handy when I started wanting to wear eyeliner and dresses later on. It's totally okay if she never likes that sort of thing, though! It's okay to be whoever she wants to be.

Also, baking is a useful skill and a good way to make friends. Appeal to their stomachs and their brains.
posted by topoisomerase at 11:04 PM on June 11, 2012

I skimmed a lot of answers before my eyes fell upon the word "Minecraft." I got my son the full version for Xmas along with an Elements of Minecraft T-shirt. He LOVED them. Granted, he was 14 at the time. If it was my daughter, who isn't really interested in the Minecraft game/world and is slightly younger, I'd've observed more carefully, but probably still been ok with getting it for her. He's kind of a misanthrope, which I understand. In my family, it may even be genetic. Heh. However, my girl is very social, so I tend to watch over her interactions outside of the house a bit more closely.

I was a non-Catholic who went to Catholic school for 12 years where my Dad was a teacher, so I understand not fitting in. It was a small school, to add to the weirdness. Also, my Dad introduced me to science fiction, which I still love, at an early age.

Frankly, you couldn't pay me enough to be a tween or teenager again.

The things that saved me were Governor's School (in Arkansas) learning more science and that I wasn't totally a freak, and then taking a break in the middle of my college years to figure out real world stuff before I went back and finished a degree.

We all find our own normal. Thank you so much for helping this gal find hers. It's a worthwhile thing to do!
posted by lilywing13 at 12:08 AM on June 12, 2012

My given name is Margaret and people sometimes called me "Meg" even though I never felt it appllied. However, A Wrinkle in Time spoke to me. It's a good book that I intend to read again soon.
posted by lilywing13 at 12:27 AM on June 12, 2012

Best answer: Also, if her parents are looking for more sports options, they might look around for an Aikido class in their area. Sometimes there are even classes at the YMCA or at a local community center that are cheaper than signing up at a dojo. Aikido isn't focused on hitting or kicking, but on redirecting the force of an attacking opponent so that it doesn't hurt you. This means that you get to focus on your body and on perfecting your own movement like in other martial arts, but without having to deal with getting hit a lot. Plus, you learn how to fall and roll without getting hurt, which is a generally useful skill to have.

And, since there's no kicking or punching, the sorts of people in Aikido classes are usually chill, nerdy, lovely folks. Also, as a bonus, you get to play with wooden swords periodically! But no one ever actually trys to whack you with them, because that's not the way Aikido works: you just get to practice wielding a sword and doing sword partner-drills with someone, which involve prescribed movements: "First, Johnny, you attack like this, and then, Susie, you block, doing this, and then, Johnny, you react by doing this."

Finally, as a side note, I think one of the most important thing that her parents can do for her right now is let her trust her instincts, even if they lead her in a direction that is unfamiliar to her parents or one that simply isn't what they had imagined for her. Or, in other words, her chosen people or her chosen life might not look like her parents' chosen people or her parents' chosen life, but it'll make her life a lot easier if she knows that that is okay. I'm not saying this is the case with her folks, but I think a lot of times parents say, "I just want you to be happy," when what they really mean is, "I just want you to be happy in a way that I recognize and understand, which you're not doing right now," and so it ends up feeling more like an insult or an attempt at pressuring you to do something differently than a genuine attempt at support. Just something to keep in mind.
posted by colfax at 2:02 AM on June 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

Camp doesn't really exist over here, but as a former gifted child I really wish I'd had chance to connect with kids that had the saem interests. (My mum thought enrolling me in the Gifted Children's Association was 'just giving them money' and I still resent it a little bit. We didn't have any kind of gifted/talented type programmes or camps over here, at least not then.) I remember well the experience of just not really being able to communicate with my peers. I grew up in a small town which had a cultural milieu that didn't appeal to me in the slightest, too, which didn't help. I didn't really have that sense of 'finding my people' until I got to sixth-form, which was a more academic environment, a fresh start, and non-uniform so I got chance to identify those most like me. At university and when I was stuck back in my home town for a few months, I would have gone insane if I hadn't had my internet buddies that I could talk to, because I just wanted to talk about 'my stuff' - the things I loved that nobody around me seemed to.

I do wish the internet had been around then, especially when I look at blogs like Tavi Gevinson's - a girl who started out writing about fashion as a 13yr old (as in couture and what designers were doing to make clothes interesting, not about how to wear your Abercrombie cardigan the cutest) then other developing interests like riot grrl. She recently started the online magazine Rookie, which (rather sadly) reflects my life and interests far better than grown-up women's magazines. I know there';s a host of issues involving tweens and using the internet which might make this tricky, but through the internet I found a lot of 'my people' and if she has a platform to talk about what she likes or is interested in, it's a good way to find likeminded folk - and you never know where it will lead. A few years ago I might have suggested LiveJournal - not only can you control the privacy settings on what you write, but there are also 'communities' based around different interests, something I would have loved as an opportunity to talk literature or music or politics at her age. However, it seems to have died off in recent years and I'm not sure what would replace it.
posted by mippy at 2:11 AM on June 12, 2012

Also, thinking about it - I would probably have enjoyed physical activity more at that age if it were divorced from PE lessons - places where I felt self-conscious and very aware of my inability to do most of it because of dyspraxia. I would probably have liked something - albeit still not involving balls, throwing or catching - that was in a non-judgemental environment where I didn't feel judged by my peers over every wrong move. AS an adult I still can't feel totally comfortable doing something like bowling, and I'd never sign up for team sports, but my experiences at school put me off physical activity for a long time. If she does like sports, out of school classes will let her meet people of varying ages and from different places, which could be great for her.
posted by mippy at 2:15 AM on June 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

I very much second a theater day camp or theater program at school. You will often find more than one flavor of "different" child, from the dramatic teens who just don't mix well with peers to the D&D obsessed tech crew. They tend to attract all types of the not mainstream. Having more than one flavor about as opposed to being pointed in the direction of some general comic book nerds might make her feel more comfortable.

Maybe a long shot, but is there a local larping community that accepts kids her age? It's like fencing without the pressure, and the bats are foam so the "getting hit" problem might not matter. They generally have a wide age range so she could meet some friends and see some older kids like her getting along well, which might make her less stressed about not fitting in with other kids.
posted by itsonreserve at 6:22 AM on June 12, 2012

We've been wondering about Minecraft. She wants it bad, but I think her parents fear it will suck her into an online community full of grown-up dudes. I didn't realize there were real-world clubs for kids centered around it!

For what it's worth, we just went to my daughter's Fifth-Grade Graduation ceremony, where they had a little slide show playing as everyone filed in and took their seats. The slide show was photos of each of the graduates with their interests, their future plans, etc. Out of the 70 or 80 fifth-graders there were probably a dozen (mostly boys, but at least one girl I remember) who listed Minecraft specifically as one of their interests.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:25 AM on June 12, 2012

On further reflection - it was a bad call not to get into the gifted program - because socialization with kids in her own peer-group is what she needs...

And she is already not self-identifying with the traditional "age-appropriate" peers - most likely because they have nothing in common.

Things should get better as she gets older through high-school, when there are an ever-growing number of different interest niches. But right now, it is hellish.

mippy - attitude toward sports - my daughter is going through the same thing... personally, my PE was so bad, it left me with a life-long hatred of general "sporty" physical activity - a very unbalanced, unheathy thing.
posted by jkaczor at 6:41 AM on June 12, 2012

I was a kid like this and the only thing I have to put in here is a plug for swim team.

I was always shitty at team sports and pretty much hated them as I was that kid who was picked last. But I always, always loved swimming. When I was 11, I decided I wanted to try swimming competitively. And so, my parents signed me up and I made my way to the pool having no real clue what I was doing. I mean, I could swim... but I went in a one piece suit from WalMart and had foam-gasket goggles. I was truly clueless. Within two weeks, I knew the basics of the strokes and had my very first Speedo and cap. Within a month, I had figured out that foam-gasket goggles are leaky pieces of crap and had scored a rubber-gasket pair. Given that I had the basics of "keeping myself alive in the water and moving generally forward" down, learning how to translate that into competition didn't take long at all.

And I had friends for years. Swimming was perfect for me because while I was doing it "with" other people, it's an entirely individual sport. I could chat on the bench at meets and hang out with my relay buddies, but once I was in the water - it was just me. No one was going to not pass me the ball because I was the nerd. I was consistently the second best in our league in my events (the *best* swimmer being on my own team... so... I never *didn't* race against her) and it was great. I didn't have a whole lot of pressure to be THE BEST - just to keep improving my own times, which I did. I got a lot of friends.

I put this out there because you say that she likes to swim. Swim team was amazing for me. The only places where I found more of "my people" when I was an adolescent were in band/chorus. (And if she's into music *at all* or can even carry a tune - bring up the idea of joining one or the other. Yes, yes, band nerds are nerds - but they're nerds with a posse.)
posted by sonika at 7:50 AM on June 12, 2012

This is a great thread, and I'm late but I wanted to say, as the mom of 2 incredible adult daughters, 22 and 26: Don't feel sorry for her! This right now is the moment and the opportunity to teach her to appreciate herself -- that is Job #1. Help her flip the script, with all the fantastic suggestions herein, and encourage her to stay strong and different. I know it's not across the board, but the "cool" girls from my girls' middle school years all seem deeply average to me! So there!
posted by thinkpiece at 8:35 AM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

If she's interested in Minecraft, maybe try her out on Glitch. It's like a more polished, more social version of Minecraft. The game forces you to socialize by making quests worth more if you do them with someone else. I'm a painfully shy hermit with only one friend IRL and even I have found a Glitch friend.
posted by bendy at 12:39 PM on June 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Citizen-science projects, like tracking local bird migration or stargazing.
Creating her own videogames, by learning a simple programming language and/or using game creation software like RPGMaker or ALICE.
Animal husbandry/care: horseback riding; 4H programs with small animals like rabbits, chickens, fancy pigeons, etc; falconry; purebred animal shows/training competitions for dogs, cats, reptiles, even fish; pet-sitting or dog-walking for friends; volunteering for animal rescues to clean cages or socialize puppies/kittens.
Creating her own YouTube series about her interests. A decent handheld digicam runs less than $100.
Theater: in addition to acting/improv classes, many local theater groups (or movie extra casting things) need kid actors for speaking roles or even just crowd scenes. And there's lots of theater-geek and geek-geek crossover.
Outdoor activities: Hiking. Archery or kyudo. RenFestivals. Boating, fishing, snorkeling. She likes swimming; there are scouting groups specifically geared toward boating/swimming/water enthusiasts, sometimes with Coast Guard ties.

I enthusiastically second the recs for Terry Pratchett, "So You Want to Be a Wizard," and "A Wrinkle in Time." Other Books/Writers that saved my life at that age (or would've if they'd been written yet): Robin McKinley. Diana Wynne Jones. Patricia Wrede's Enchanted Forest series. Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, Coraline, M is for Magic, Odd & the Frost Giants, Stardust, and The Sandman comic (note: LOTS of adult content, though never gratuitous). David Eddings's The Belgariad series, basically THE gateway drug to high/epic fantasy if The Hobbit doesn't snag you first. Jane Yolen, especially fencing ode Foiled. Practically everything published by Firebird. Long epic manga like Cardcaptor Sakura, Sailor Moon, Naruto, Red River, Please Save My Earth, Fushigi Yugi & Fushigi Yugi Genbu Kaiden, Inuyasha, etc.
TV shows & cartoons: Escaflowne. Avatar The Last Airbender & Legend of Korra. Fruits Basket. Batman The Animated Series and the rest of the DCAU. My Little Pony Friendship is Magic (among the other bronies). Doctor Who (still technically a kids' show, people!).
posted by nicebookrack at 1:47 PM on June 12, 2012

This is a great thread! A couple of things I would add:

1) Yes she should go to gifted kids school. That is the single best thing her parents can do for her, by far :-)

2) And the answer to this concern is: more adults! I mostly agree with this, but I'd recommend a little caution. It is easier for geeky smart kids to be around adults, because adult values are more similar to theirs, but being around adults too much, especially if they're the centre of attention, can shape kids' personalities in unhelpful ways. I have seen kids get into the habit of 'performing' smart/cute (like, "yes, I love math! I am pretty awesome and weird, huh?") and that can be hard to unlearn later, when they're an adult and it just comes off as odd.

3) Give the girl a copy of Margaret Atwood's CatsEye! I don't know why it doesn't get constantly recommended in threads like this one, because it is great. (Maybe because it's Canadian, so no-one has heard of it?) It's the story of a girl who, in the words of Wikipedia, "at the age of eight becomes friends with Carol and Grace, and, through their eyes, realises that her atypical background of constant travel with her entomologist father and independent mother has left her ill-equipped for conventional expectations of femininity." Basically talks about the very particular hell that young girls put each other through -- gossiping, eye-rolling, silent treatments, and all that. When I read it in my late teens, I immediately felt 1000x less alone.

4) My father was an extraordinarily smart parent to little kids, and when I was young he said something to me that I cherished for years. He told me that a lot of my classmates' lives were starting to peak -- that their lives were never going to get any better than being popular shiny ponytail girl in the seventh grade, or whatever. He told me that the luckiest people were those who were awkward and weird as kids, because that just meant we hadn't come into our own yet. That we would grow up to go to university and live in far-flung lands and have all kinds of amazing adventures. And that really we should feel sorry for the ponytail girl, because she was never going to accomplish anything extraordinary, and we were. It was a brilliant thing to say -- a perfect blend of truth, fantasy and schadenfreude -- very, very comforting. Someone should say something like that to your girl :-)
posted by Susan PG at 12:57 AM on June 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'd be careful with the "shiny ponytail girl" stuff.

My parents said the same thing to me, and it was great when I was an awkward middle schooler. I held it as axiomatic all the way through high school, especially since I went to a high school that was basically nerd finishing school.

And then I went to college, and there were plenty of shiny ponytail girls who'd gotten into the same program I had, who I slowly began to realize were just as good as me. In addition to being pretty and sparkly and popular, AND exceptionally gifted, a lot of them (possibly because of the college I attended) were also very privileged. All those middle school feelings of inferiority came rushing back, which wasn't good for me, and the whole thing manifested in some pretty nasty attitudes about other people. Especially other women.

This is something I've had to revisit throughout my adult life, as I meet bright talented people who were never ugly ducklings. It's still kind of hard to avoid getting swept up in the dichotomy of Nerdy = Good, Popular = Bad. I still sort of tend to think less of other women if I find out they were cheerleaders or in a sorority or something.
posted by Sara C. at 9:37 AM on June 14, 2012 [8 favorites]

She sounds like me at that age, mostly in not being able to grok what the other kids (I was in all-girls schools the whole time) were into. The other complication was that I lived really far away from anything, in a city with pathetic public transport, and helicopter overprotective parents who thought that any moment I would step outside the door was a moment I was in deep dire danger (actually they still think that).

My escape, my retreat? Internet, especially fandom. In my specific case, Savage Garden (and a few others): I was a super prolific fanfic writer, made tons of websites, even got noticed by a TV station that eventually led to one of my best friends ever as well as a job offer. What I valued, more than anything, was the vast community based on shared interest - yes, some people were naff and arseholes, but many were friendly and open, and it was a place where I could be weird and not have to worry about people devaluing my interests.

I'm not sure what is available for 11 year olds nowadays, but I was online since I was 8-9, and there used to be this site named KidsTalk that accepted kids' writing and even sent us books to review. Maybe something general-interest like that? I do know that when I was a kid making ezines was a thing; my friends and I were involved in a bunch of short-lived projects like that.
posted by divabat at 10:46 PM on June 25, 2012

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