"I don't know what I did. Brittany doesn't like me anymore."
The young teen's angst was palpable. She was 12, maybe 13, and in the throes of middle school. A long-time friendship had come to a screeching halt, and she couldn't figure out why.
"Brittany's going to a party with the popular kids tonight," she said quietly.
"What makes them popular?"
She shrugged. "They just are."
Middle school is a difficult time of transition for our children. Increased expectations from teachers and parents, changing bodies and social cliques coupled with mounting peer pressure to "fit in" can make these years a rough and rocky ride.
Throughout elementary school, children identify more closely with their family and welcome guidance from mom and dad. As they transition to middle school, peer relationships take center stage. What their friends think far outweighs what parents have to say, as teens look to peers for acceptance and approval.
There can be tremendous pressure in middle school to fit in with the "popular" crowd.
As kids navigate the middle school terrain, there's plenty parents can to do help them come out (fairly) unscathed, especially by remaining a steady rock they can rely on. Some messages to share with your children:
Fitting in can make a person feel left out. Sacrificing who we are to meet someone else's needs can leave us feeling empty inside. We can help our child figure why he/she wants to be part of a popular group by asking some questions. Why is it important to you to fit in with those particular kids? Do the popular kids share your interests? Your values? If someone in the popular group wanted to exclude another one of your friends, would you go along?
Seek out clicks, not cliques. "Clicks" result in healthy relationships that are supportive and encouraging. Cliques frequently bring people together based on a desire to be popular. Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker, says in an article at PsychCentral.com: "Teens who find a friend group that 'clicks' grow into adults with a healthy self-esteem. They know how to make solid relationships with people who can be there for each other through good times and bad. Teens whose only social group is a clique are often insecure in their relationships and lack the self-confidence to assert their creativity or individuality."
Let your light shine! Don't give up what you love because you worry other people won't view it as "cool." Have confidence in your choices and your abilities, and people will ultimately respect you for being true to who you are. Your individuality is what makes you, you.
Consider the source. When someone has a problem with you, it's usually based on an insecurity that person has about him/herself. It's unfortunate that people judge others based on how they look, what they wear or how they act. Frequently those who criticize others lack self-confidence and try to cover it up by appearing to be confident and in control.
Seek relationships with people who accept you for who you are, instead of changing to attract new friends. Friendships should be built on trust, not popularity.
An interesting side note: A study released in June in Child Development indicates the "cool kids" from middle school don't fare as well by their 20s. The research involved tracking 184 volunteers from age 13 to 23 and found that those who met certain criteria for "cool" in middle school — they dated, experimented with smoking or alcohol, were obsessed with being in the popular group — were 45 percent more likely to be alcoholics or drug users at age 23 compared to those who weren't "cool" in middle school. They were also 22 percent more likely to have committed crimes. Not so cool.
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