Who are the Cool Kids?

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. imagesRHGZENLW “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.

 

 

 

 

 

Following the Adolescent Mind

Earlier this week I blogged “What were you THINKING!?!”, concerning adult reaction when older children make poor decisions.   A news report concerning adolescents taking selfies on active railroad tracks, encouraged me to continue on this topic.  In the last year over 500 deaths on railroad tracks have been reported.  One of the issues is the adolescent attraction to thrills.  Of course, it was mentioned the influence of music videos and movies.  But we must also look at the physiological development of children and adolescents.

Neuroeducation.com states that by adolescence the brain is full size but is making many organizational changes:

“At this point in development the brain has to decide what’s needed, what’s not, and how to become the most efficient. In order to do this the adolescent brain has to undergo synaptic pruning, in which useful neural connections are kept and less useful connections wither away. One important area of reorganization is in the prefrontal cortex that handles abstract cognitive abilities as well as impulse control.”

Research has shown that the brains of children mainly focus on visual processing and slowly begin to develop in planning and impulse control, a process which isn’t complete until adult maturity.  The adults who are involved with children and teens must keep in mind that the brain function does not keep up with the physical growth on the outside.  To know what is going on in that brain, parents and other loving adults must become very good listeners.  Stephen Covey, in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, wrote, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the  intent to reply.”  An adolescent’s adults must listen to them with intent to understand, and often to ‘read between the lines’  throughout the conversation to ascertain what they really want  to be known.   Often you need to restate what you heard for clarification as what you hear is not always what they are trying to say.    They do not want to know what you think, they want you to know what they think.  When you stop listening, they stop speaking, when they stop speaking, there is no communication.   listening to hear

Observation of  adolescents shows they are a whirlwind of brain activity in short spaces of time.  They can be a wealth of knowledge one moment, have the enthusiasm of a  puppy, interest in topics far beyond their years, or want to spend the day watching cartoons.  It is normal!  Expect them to behave like children, be grateful when they act maturely showing signs of brain growth, prepare them as best you can for the decisions that they may have to make when you aren’t around, and love them no matter what.   listening with intent

C. Beth Hoffman M.Ed, author of My Loving Self and Me

Miss Misunderstood- an unpublished new story

The day had seemed long when Gabby opened the back door to the kitchen. It wasn’t that she felt sad, more like empty. Unsure of why she felt this way, she knew she felt like she needed a hug, a tight one, one that said, “You are all right the way you are.” Mom was already busy in the kitchen. Apparently she had school work because the computer was surrounded by a ton of books. Mom was attending college and that kept her very busy. There was something in the oven, and something on the stove, and Mom was racing around like she was in a big hurry to get somewhere. Obviously she had no time for Gabby tonight.

Mom turned her head when she heard the door close and called out, “Thank goodness you are home. I have a study group at the college tonight at 5:30 so I have to leave in an hour. I need you to finish getting dinner ready, set the table, and make some iced tea for your father.”

Gabby just stood there. So much for that hug she was thinking about. No time for Gabby at all.

“What’s that face for? I just asked for a little help and I get attitude from you?” Mom asked more as a statement of anger than a question.

“I don’t have an attitude.” Gabby replied.

“Yes, I think you do. I can see it on your face. You used to be so sweet and helpful and now all I get is attitude”, was Mom’s reply.

Gabby thought to herself, “Yeah. And you met me at the door with a smile and asked about my day and dinner was ready. You start college and it is me that changed.” But she kept silent.

The look on Mom’s face hurt Gabby to the core. She hadn’t doubted how her mother felt about her before, but she did now. She really felt alone.

“Gabby, why are you still standing there. Get started on the iced tea!” Mom yelled.

“I am,” she replied. Sometimes this type of conversation made Gabby very angry and she wanted to yell back, but this afternoon, she knew she was about to cry. In fact she could feel the tear coming down her face. She quickly wiped it away and got out the pitcher. She checked the oven and saw a lasagna from the supermarket had been recently put in. String beans were on the stove awaiting the stove to be turned on.

Gabby finished the iced tea and set the table for 3 since Mom wouldn’t be joining them, and took her backpack up to her room. She didn’t have the energy for homework right now and turned on some music, and put on her earphones. It was her way of blocking out all that noise she heard in her head. Sometimes she was angry. Sometimes she told her mother off in her head. Sometimes she told herself what she was sure everyone else was thinking. It was never good.

The door slammed open and Gabby jumped. Mom was standing there with her REALLY disgusted face on.

“That is why you didn’t hear me! Take those things out of your ears. Gabby you know I have to get out of here and get to school. Why did you leave me? I don’t have time chasing around after you”, said Mom, frustrated.

“I thought you were finished with me. I set the table and made the tea. The lasagna won’t be ready for 20 minutes. I needed some me time.” Gabby replied.

Mom looked like she was going to blow, but she took a deep breath, and then another. She came over and sat next to Gabby on the bed.

“You needed to get away from me, didn’t you?” Mom asked.

Gabby just shrugged her shoulders. “Mom, I am not trying to make anything harder for you. I am trying to do the chores you ask me to do. I know college is hard work for you. But I still need my mom sometimes and today was one of those days. I just needed a hug or a smile. That is all. Growing up is hard, too.”

Mom put her arms around Gabby. “My Loving Self was really far away. I was so wrapped up in my All About Me Self that I took it out on you. I know you are trying and should have been more appreciative.”

“That took a lot of love to express yourself so clearly and calmly. You are growing up and I am missing it. I am sorry, Gabby Gootz, I will do better at being a college student and a mom. I wasn’t thinking about how you were feeling. Here I thought you were being selfish and didn’t want to help. It was me that was being selfish. I will try to understand your feelings and not jump to conclusions. I know growing up is hard. I really don’t want to make it harder for you”, said Mom.

Mom hugged Gabby tighter and kissed her on the forehead. “I love you sweetheart”, she said with a smile.

Gabby smiled back as Mom got up and headed off to school. She sat for a few moments before heading down to check on the lasagna. Did Mom really think she was making annoyed faces at her?

She didn’t like being misunderstood. She wasn’t comfortable when her feelings didn’t seem important to anyone else. Mom was right. That did take courage to tell her the truth calmly. Gabby smiled to herself and then realized she was grateful that Mom listened. Gabby also realized that sometimes it was difficult explaining herself clearly because she didn’t always understand how she felt. The one thing she did know was that she wanted to feel good about herself, and pleasing others sometimes made that difficult.

Gabby continued down to the kitchen and remembered something Gram had told her.

“When nothing seems to be going right, take an account of all you have to be grateful for. Make a list. If you can’t think of anything, write down all your complaints then write BUT after them. Go back and read each sentence once more with the “but” there and fill in the blank. Once you have vented, you will have an easier time finding something good to complete the sentence,” Gram had said.

“I guess I can give that a try,” Gabby said out loud and went to find a pen and paper.

Understanding One Another

images0ET2QGJ4I recently wrote a story entitled “Miss Misunderstood” to address the pre-teen dilemma of feeling “no one gets me”. With this on my mind, many things that I observed fit into the same category making it clear, that it isn’t an issue limited to preteens and teens. Perhaps they react more vocally than other age groups, or perhaps for the first time they are feeling a disconnect with a parent. But  they definitely are having a hard time with something.

I had a conversation with a mother concerned about her child’s success in school. nosiyHis kindergarten teacher told her that he was one of the best and brightest students in her class. But he had just finished an optional summer school program and that teacher’s report was that he can’t stay focused, is easily distracted and doesn’t complete tasks. Obviously she was concerned that the two reports were so far apart. Before I could form a thought, the six year joined the conversation and very calmly told us that he couldn’t concentrate because it was too noisy. He was more interested in what the boys were doing and saying that was funny, than the paper in front of him. Without an understanding of the setting in the classroom, the description creates a judgment of the child that is if not inaccurate, certainly incomplete. He understood that what his mother was being told was different than his truth.

This happens all the time, doesn’t it? Judgments are made and voiced based on limited perspective. The teacher in this case had a class that was less structured and if that is her norm, doesn’t see that as anything unusual, where for the child, it may have been his first experience in that setting. When we make judgments in everyday life, and we do it all the time, the same thing happens. We are judging one another from our own perspective with a disregard for the situation of the other. Sometimes adults are strong enough in their own self-worth to stop us in our tracks and tell us that that was an unfair assessment, but too often, they leave hurt and holding a grudge or just plain angry.

Pre-teens and teens see the unfairness immediately. If you the parent are the culprit, they can’t avoid the situation and either let it all out or run away. Parents see tween behavior in black and white. I asked you to do this. You didn’t. You chose to disrespect me. The truth is they may have forgotten, and not out of disrespect.imagesIUHK70WV There is so much going on in their heads as they begin to mature. They can’t always prioritize and remember. Something fun and entertaining, or on the other side something devastating comes up and regardless of their intention to follow through with what they began, it doesn’t happen. Isn’t that why adults make lists? For the most part what is on an adult list can be put off until tomorrow and yet children aren’t afforded the same flexibility. And they are blamed for choosing to ignore their responsibilities. They feel misunderstood.

As a school administrator, I met with many parents, teachers and children. Often the discussion evolved around understanding perspective. Everyone has their own perspective and for them that is their truth. In any relationship, understanding comes from being willing and able to see things from the other’s perspective. 10519659_10152640477383628_8988237184025393490_nAll children from birth on, need this understanding to grow, and to learn to do the same with others. Seeing things from their perspective and explaining your perspective to them is valuable at any age. “Because I said so!” didn’t work when your parents said it to you and it doesn’t work now. Aha Parenting.com has a section for all age groups including school age, tween and early teens with many worthwhile articles on this and many other topics written to aid parents in navigating the route to successful, happy, secure children.

About the Author

11115609_10204369689187957_9074883143868021693_oC. Beth Hoffman has a master’s degree in education, and after more than thirty years as a teacher and administrator in New Jersey public schools, she is now retired, giving her time to pursue interests in angels, energy healing and living from the heart. She has studied Reiki, IET (integrated energy therapy), angel therapy, and Magnified Healing. She and her husband reside in the Lake Wallenpaupack area of the Poconos in Pennsylvania where they are blessed to spend time with their grandchildren, one of the inspirations for this book.