By Linda Perlstein Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2003 Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Oct 13th 2003
Not Much Just Chillin' tells
the stories of a number of children at a suburban Middle School in Columbia, Maryland.
Washington Post education reporter Linda Perlstein spent a year
observing the lives both at home and at school of these eleven- to
thirteen-year-olds, and manages to convey their rapidly changing thoughts and
feelings. Some of them come from two-parent families where they receive a
great deal of encouragement along with pressure to succeed. Other children
come from homes with divorced parents and less consistent nurturing. They live
in a materialistic culture and they experience to a wide variety of temptations
and images, often making them want to behave like high school students. It is
common these days to hear of middle school students engaging in sexual
activity, drinking, taking drugs, and even getting pregnant, and most adults
find such reports disturbing. So Perlstein's attempt to shed light on what
leads these children to act so differently from middle school students of
previous generations deserves attention.
Nevertheless, there are no
surprising revelations in Not Much Just Chillin' about what children do nor
about the influences on their actions. Obviously, parents still play a crucial
role, as do friends and teachers, and TV shows, computer games, and the
Internet also have an effect. Perlstein briefly discusses some of the
psychological and neurological facts about development during puberty, and she
addresses race and gender insofar as it relates to the children in her book.
What she provides best, however, is description rather than explanation. It
will probably make most readers glad that they do not have to go through those
years again, and it may induce panic in parents alarmed about what their own
children face. Not Much Just Chillin' gives a clear picture of a slice
of the life of some middle school children, but it will leave many readers
wanting more sociological and historical comparisons to understand the
transformations in the lives of these pre-adolescents. While Perlstein does
not attempt to tell parents or teachers how to solve all the problems that
these children will face, she does make some recommendations that may seem like
common sense but could be useful as reminders on how to give children the care
and guidance they need.
Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities
Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island.
He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main
research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.