Life in the Slow Lane: Popularity at a not-so-popular price

By From page A3 | July 09, 2014

What makes someone popular? As I witness kids at home and work go through the ups and downs of friendships, I wonder what are the ingredients to creating popularity. Because I know for sure we aren’t born with it.

I remember way back in fifth grade, when I wanted desperately for the “popular” girl to like me. On some days she did, and some days she didn’t. It was a crazy, emotional roller coaster. My wise mom would tell me that this girl wasn’t a true friend, but I didn’t listen — I was busy convincing myself that this girl was supposed to like me. I learned the hard way, through many tears, what my mom meant. I focused on my truest friends, who are still my friends, nearly 40 years later.

Oh, and don’t forget the jeans — yes, many girls are convinced that they will be liked more if they have the “right” jeans. I truly thought that my mom was sabotaging my social life based on not wanting to spend more than $16 on the special Dittos brand jeans that would win any friend over. Fast-forward to present day, and many parents are having the same struggle with their kids (and the price of jeans has increased considerably).

I know that I sound like my grandpa with what I’m about to say — kids these days are growing up too fast. The popularity race plus the technology age equals a younger generation racing along the fast track. There’s research being done on these popular teens who are growing up faster. They are actually missing out on what they are truly supposed to be doing; simply being a teenager, not trying to reach adulthood too quickly. Popularity can’t come at any cost, especially missing out on developmental milestones.

What can our kids do to avoid this fast track to popularity and beyond? That’s where we come in as parents, to help them develop a sense of themselves and who they are in the world. Figuring out how they feel around certain friends is helpful, as they learn who they can be themselves with and who they can’t.

They need to figure out some of this without us, even if it means feeling crushed when someone doesn’t like them. Yes, it’s OK to let our kids get hurt, as the recovery and learning from the experience is part of the process.

As a parent, I can’t convince my daughter what is more important — to fit in or stay true to herself. She is going to have to buy a ticket on the same roller-coaster ride I was on in fifth grade, and hopefully pick the people who are friends for who she is on the inside, not for what jeans she’s wearing.

— Valerie Frankel, MFT, is a licensed therapist in private practice who lives in Davis with her family. Her column publishes monthly. Reach her at [email protected]

Valerie Frankel

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