Echosmith’s “Cool Kids” was playing on the car radio as my grandson and I were traveling. Afterwards I asked him who the cool kids are. He only hesitated a second or two before responding that kids like him are the cool kids because they don’t try to make anyone like them. They like who they are and are happy being themselves. He continued to tell me that kids that are trying to be cool, to be liked, are usually mean in the process. It is so important to have certain kids like them that they are hurtful to others. They are not being themselves. My grandson is eleven.
Imagine for a second that the definition of cool kids in school was- a young person who is confident and happy being themselves and wishes the same for all others. Wouldn’t that put a whole new spin on social dynamics in school at all levels?
My daughter had really nice friends in school for whom I was grateful. I recognized the group of friends without consciously acknowledging that it was a group and that groups have boundaries. Groups with boundaries often have invisible gates that adults don’t see, but other children know they are there. The gates became visible to me as a teacher when a young person I knew entered middle school and made a new friend and was included somewhat into her circle of friends. They were having a wonderful time getting to know each other. A few weeks into the school year, the group surrounded my friend unexpectedly and informed her that the other child was in their group, the group didn’t feel she fit in with them, and she was no longer welcome. “You don’t belong”, they told her. The new friend stood by and watched, then left with them, whispering, “Sorry”. The devastation this child felt was deep and painful. As a teacher I became more aware of the silent social hurt that happens without adult knowledge because I knew the victim personally.
In 1995, Patricia A and Peter Adler published in Social Psychology Quarterly ,Vol. 58, No. 3 (Sep., 1995), pp. 145-162, “Dynamics of Inclusion and Exclusion in Preadolescent Cliques. They concluded that the inclusion and exclusion of children is the center of the later elementary years cliques, and that this social framework impacts their character and is carried over to adulthood. “Cliques are circles of power wherein leaders attain and wield influence over their followers by cyclically building them up and cutting them down, first drawing them into the elite inner circle and allowing them to bask in the glow of popularity and acceptance, and then reducing them to positions of dependence and subjugation by turning the group against them.” Their findings included a leaning toward discrimination as adults.
As parents look at their children’s friends they should ask themselves if the relationship is positively supportive of their child making their own decisions, having age appropriate activities and living from their heart. If within a specific group a child is insecure on their own, lacks confidence to stick up for themselves and their values, is unkind to others including siblings, feels too powerful, or becomes sneaky, the group dynamic needs attention. Being one of the cool kids may not be in the best interest of that child.
In researching I noticed that a “cool kids” definition may be different within different communities. While I see the cool kids as popular, they have usually also been good students and often athletes or musicians, but within a group setting do see others not included as less than themselves or their group. The studies done on cool kids in middle school through young adulthood define them differently, with one explanation in an article, “Cool at 13, Adrift at 23”. Jan Hoffman,writer for the New York Times quoted, Dr. Joseph P Allen, psychology professor at the University of Virginia, who described them as fast tracked, socially precocious risk takers. Dr. Allen’s study found that “psudomature” behavior in adolescence was a greater predictor of drug and alcohol abuse as a young adult than was actual use of drugs or alcohol in the middle school ages.
However “cool” is defined in your child’s social life, it is clear that your awareness may be even more necessary than when they were younger. Everything in their lives is a stage, but each stage is a basis for the next. Knowing where they are heading is valuable. Sometimes you have to step in. At one time I was accused of being unfair and critical of young man. When asked how I could dislike someone I didn’t know, I responded, “You are right. He may be a very nice boy. I am not judging him. I am judging you, and I don’t like who you are when you are in his company.”
While supporting social growth of older children, parents need to keep foremost in their mind what they want for their children, leaving their own past experience with group dynamics out of the equation. Help them be themselves first and foremost, holding onto their character in the presence of their peers.