Hindsight Parenting: The Rise and Fall of The “Cool” Kid
Popularity is a Bad Word
Dear Moms and Dads of Future Cool and Popular Kids,
I’ve seen your children—in my classroom, on the playground, at my daughters preschool. I’ve seen them shun the non-conformists, the quirky kids, the ones who may be poorer, or look different, or think different. I’ve seen them. I know them. I once wanted desperately to be them (and perhaps in retrospect WAS one of them.)
It must feel mighty comfortable there on the top. It might feel good to have the daughter who is the “it” girl or the son who’s the “it” guy. However, don’t get too comfy with your child’s top of the world status. Nope. I wouldn’t. Here’s the thing, I know something because of my mighty friend, Hindsight, that was just confirmed by scientist Joseph Allen. It might be great to be on top of the school food chain but that stature is short lived and quite often those kids deemed popular flounder as young adults because they don’t learn the highly necessary skill of learning to adapt to challenges and the constructs of real life.
Honestly, how many of us have now realized that that perceived popularity doesn’t mean squat once a person has left the confines of their school district. But that well known idea is often spoken to those who AREN’T popular. This post is meant to talk to the parents and the kids who ARE currently popular.
According to Allen, part of the problem is that kids that are constantly the center of attention feel a need to do more and more to keep that attention as they grow older. However, others (maybe some of the popular kids’ friends) as they age are less and less impressed. According to Allen, “although the queen bees and homecoming kings acted older than their age in middle school and high school, by 22 they were seen by their peers as being less socially competent and less mature.” This sets up a problem. Queen (and king) bees are used to being treated as such even when the rest of the hive are old enough to spread their wings to fly. Allen says that this lethal combination helps to contribute to a lack of steady accomplishments in early adulthood.
However, what’s even more urgent is the fact that Allen found in his study that popularity also more likely to have problems with drugs and alcohol, and have trouble managing friendships as they grow older. By age 22, the cool crowd had a 45 percent higher rate of problems that come with drug and alcohol addiction and were much more likely to be involved in criminal activity than their uncool counterparts.
But don’t worry all you moms and dads of the cool kids. Joseph Allen reminds us that nothing is written in stone, and as parents we should do all that we can to help prepare our children (whether popular or not popular) in order to be successful after high school.
Hindsight offers us some insight on this subject. First, we must teach our children to not focus too heavily on appearance. Taking pride in the way they look is so important as is cleanliness and having a healthy outlook on their body image. But getting hung up on the latest trends, body piercings, and designer labels are sure fire ways to set our children up for the “cool crowd” syndrome.
Another way to keep your kids focused on what’s important instead of striving to be part of the in-crowd is to teach them that social hierarchies don’t decide their worth. This is a lesson that must start early in order for it to be a natural part of our children’s thinking patterns. If our children intrinsically know what makes them special, what they like and dislike, if they stand strong in their beliefs, no one can make them feel inferior, nor would they need the “good feelings” of being a chosen one. They would be secure in their own positivity and assuredness. This will keep our children out of the popular crowd…(That last sentence kind of makes me chuckle.)
Another sure fire way to keep our kids from needing to be popular is to help them aim for fulfillment in the long term, not just short fleeting gratification like the status of prom queen or quarterback of the football team. When they work to complete small goals that will help move them toward a larger one it will keep them centered on what’s to come instead of fixated on the small stuff.
Lastly, both John Allen and Hindsight reminds us of the importance of monitoring the media our children are exposed to. Nowadays, teens on television, movies and music videos are portrayed as living the fast life in glamorous and shall I say “cool” ways. This sets up expectations that kids should be acting older than they really are which according to Allen is a characteristic of the popular crowd. By watching closely what our kids watch and having open conversations with them about the reality as well as the consequences that come with some of the things that are characterized in the media, we can try and ensure that our children are satisfied with being the age that they are and aren’t in such a hurry to do, think, act and speak in a way that isn’t age appropriate.
It is my hope that this study is just the beginning of a shift in our thinking. That instead of being the proud parent of a popular cool kid, someday parents can think “Yes! My child is a nerd!” or “Yes, my kid is a brooding ‘emo’” because we all finally realize that every child holds strengths that make them special.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Logan has lived in Glens Falls, NY all her life. By day, she is an educator with 20 years experience, a mom to Aidan and Gannan, her two teenage boys, a new mommy to a beautiful daughter, Ila, and wife to the love of her life, Jeffrey. By night, weekends and any spare time she can find, Logan writes. She loves memoir and also adores writing essays about the challenges of parenthood. This year she started a parenting blog called A Muddled Mother, an honest place where mothers aren’t afraid to speak of the complications and difficulties that we all inevitably experience. Logan has been published in various children’s and parenting magazines including Today’s Motherhood, Eye on Education, Faces, and Appleseed. Logan’s previous column for Hilltown Families, Snakes and Snails: Teenage Boys Tales ran bi-monthly from June 2010-Feb. 2011, sharing stories of her first time around as a parent of two teenage boys. — Check out Hindsight Parenting: Raising Kids the Second Time Around every first and third Tuesday of the month.