“Slap-Ass Friday” And The Awkward Years

Some parents and school administrators are growing concerned in Las Vegas. Middle school students have adopted what they call “Slap-Ass Friday,” where every Friday they slap their classmates on the backside.

It’s not clear from the story how strong the “slap” is — whether it’s a tap or a real, rear-back-and-smack, spanking-like stinger — but the story makes it sound like the “slap-ass” practice is widespread. The guardian of one student says she’s not going to let her charge, a seventh-grader, go back to school to be “accosted” on Fridays and that the slapping students should be punished. The school, in turn, says it has a zero-tolerance policy for physical violence and disciplinary action will be taken “if appropriate.”

This sounds like a weird story — how would something as strange as “Slap-Ass Friday” develop in the first place? — until you consider the phrases “middle school” and “seventh grade.” Those are just about the most awkward years imaginable, when pretty much any kind of bizarre behavior might occur. Puberty begins to kick in, and the bodies of your classmates start to change noticeably. Braces and pimples suddenly assume enormous importance. You’re hungry all the time, you constantly grow out of your clothes, and you begin to notice odd urges and feelings — including the desire to be accepted and popular.

“Slap-Ass Friday” seems like precisely the sort of stupid, pointless thing that middle-schoolers inexplicably do under these superheated teenage circumstances. No doubt some of the “popular” kids started doing it, and the practice was quickly adopted by everyone in a rush of conformist behavior. I remember weird crazes and conduct during my junior high years. People passed notes asking whether someone “liked” them. Loafers with pennies in the slot were thought to be cool. Kids made paper fortune tellers with weird or sappy messages. Your friends thought it was hilarious to slug you on the arm for no apparent reason. If two people said something at the same time, one would rush to say “you owe me a Coke” before the other one did. “Cinnamon sticks” — toothpicks soaked in cinnamon oil — were all the rage, even though they burned the corner of your mouth.

None of this meant anything long term, although at the time it seemed awfully important. We survived adolescence and ultimately grew out of the curious behavior. So, I’d be cautious about overreacting to “Slap-Ass Friday” and depicting the participants as violent bullies. It just sounds like more of the awkward conduct that characterizes an awkward period of life that every adult survived and now would rather forget.