In the seventh grade I was promoted by my peers from president of the class geek-nerd-brainiac society to, well, if not fully cool, then at least on the way. I had discovered two sports I excelled in—golf and baseball—and the girls had discovered that I was one of the best, if not the best, dancer in the class. My classmates began overlooking the fact that I was a straight-A student, always sported a few pimples, and wore thick glasses.
My sudden popularity went immediately to my head. Seeing an opening, I promptly assigned myself to the role of class comedian. Up until then, only my few friends (nerds, all) knew that I possessed a quick wit. I was determined to change that, and change it I did. In no time, a very sick co-dependent relationship developed between my fellow students and me. They depended on me for jokes, and I depended on them for laughter. It goes without saying that the more they laughed, the more I joked.
My teachers tried in vain to get me to comport myself properly. They kept me after school, gave me extra work, had me write “I will not interrupt instruction with what I think are funny jokes but what are in fact immature remarks” one thousand times, then two thousand times, and so on. When my teachers finally accepted that they had failed to suppress my craving, they began sending me to the principal, but all he did was talk to me about how I had a lot of potential and could be a positive role model and how disappointed he was in me. Needless to say, that didn’t work either. In fact, the more the “authorities” failed at turning me back into a nerd, the worse I became (or better, depending on who was making the judgment).
My downfall was quick and merciless. One February day, my parents went to the school for what I thought was a routine parent conference. When they came home, they sat me down and my stepfather said, “Listen very closely, because I am only going to say this one time. If between now and the end of the school year a teacher reprimands you for any reason, even a wrong reason, you will repeat the seventh grade.” I remember his words precisely because they changed my life. Then, without further comment, they stood up and walked away.
The next day, I became a boy in a bubble. I sat at my desk, eyes facing either straight ahead at the teacher or straight down at whatever work I was doing. When I raised my hand, it was to answer a question, not crack a joke. When a teacher called on me, I responded like the good brainiac-nerd I had again become. During lunch, several guys approached me and asked what the problem was, so I told them about the previous night’s “conversation” with my parents. They thought that was hilarious; and so, for the rest of the year, they tried their best to get me in trouble. It was only by divine intervention, I’m sure, that I was promoted to the eighth grade.
I remembered this event when some parents recently told me their son had become the class clown. I listened to their description and disagreed. The clown is silly, immature, and has very few friends. Their son was a troublemaker, for sure, but he is genuinely funny and has a good number of friends. That describes the class comedian. Both the clown and the comedian are disruptive, but the one needs tough love, while the other just needs tough. Trust me. I have personal experience in this matter.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his website at www.rosemond.com.