I remember when I was a teenager the pressure to conform was terrible. The fact that I wasn't one of the A-list super popular people was an angsty nightmare. For about a minute. I am happy to say that I got past it much more quickly than many of my peers. What a relief it was when I clued into the realization that I could be happy and unpopular.
When my boys were little and wending their way through the mild shallow waters of the elementary school political scene, I imparted my well-earned wisdom. I told them it's okay if not everybody likes you, as long as a couple of them do; you can't please everyone, you can only please yourself; you're the one constant person in your life, so be somebody YOU like.
My advice served them well in those early years, and eventually the waters deepened as they moved onto middle school an finally (for my oldest), high school. The pressure to be popular and conform became ever more intense. For my middle child, problems started cropping up. Envy over the things that some of his classmates had, shame that he didn't have the latest shoes, beats (those are fancy newfangled ear buds, if you're unaware), or an iPhone. He fretted over having freckles and red hair. He scrutinized his physique mercilessly and anguished over what others may have had that made them more likeable and desirable that he did not. Although he seemed to me to be quite popular, his insecurity was growing and I was getting worried.
I read “Cliques” by Charlene Giannetti and Margaret Sagarese and “Peer Power: Preadolescent Culture and Identity” by Patricia and Peter Adler. In it I discovered some things and wrote this article, "Teen Culture," for the series I was writing on bullying. It helped me to talk to my teens in a practical way, to show them the social trap that is conformity and the level of personal freedom that they would have to give up in order to become popular and maintain that popularity. Here is an excerpt from my article:
I sat my sons down, one by one, and spoke to them about the price that comes with being popular. I explained that if they are in a position where they are offered drugs or alcohol from the leader of their clique, they could not say no without losing their position in the group. I explained that if the leader(s) of the clique or the group itself decided certain clothes were not acceptable, they would be expected not to wear them. I explained that if they really liked a girl and the girl liked them back but she was deemed unworthy by the others in the group, they would not be allowed to date her. Basically, being in a "cool" clique often times means taking orders from your friends, always having to mind what you say and do, and constantly worry about whether or not you're measuring up.
When I asked them if that was something that they really wanted, they emphatically proclaimed, "no." Since our discussion (and continued talks), the have become much more relaxed. They make friends with a variety of people, wear what they like, date who they choose and are not worried about falling out of favor with any of their friends. As for what we allow at home, we do not hinder their self expression in any regard. They realize that by not pursuing popularity or buying into the pressure to conform at school or even at home, they enjoy a very unique and blissful form of personal freedom that many of their peers don't understand and probably won't discover until college and maybe not even until well beyond.
Photo Credit: Deepwarren
***Visit Living Peacefully with Children and Authentic Parenting to find out how you can participate in next month's Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival! Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants: (This list will be live and updated by afternoon March 29 with all the carnival links.)
- No Tattoos! (yet) - Jana Falls at Jananas is okay with tattoos. You just have to wait until you're 18.
- The Chains of Conformity -Destany at They are All of Me writes about teaching her children to be true to their own authenticity and... screw conformity, it's for sheep.
- Supporting Self-Expression in Children - At Living Peacefully with Children, Mandy encourages her children to be themselves and express themselves accordingly.
- Encouraging Good Examples -Amy W. at Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work encourages her spirited preschooler to choose good examples to copy in order to discourage inappropriate learned behaviors.
- Supporting Your Child's Self Expression - Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama discusses how she support's her daughter's desire to be herself despite objections from Rasta Daddy.
- Can a "good" child be noncompliant? - Lauren at Hobo Mama has a sweet-natured child who is anything but obedient. She likes him just fine, but his grandmother's not sure what to make of him.
- In Crowd or Outcast, March to Your Own Beat - Jorje of Momma Jorje compares some of the odd fashions of her own youth to some of the crazy stuff kids, and her teen in particular, are doing these days.
- Their bodies are their own - At Authentic Parenting, Laura questions society's claims on children.