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Book: Install#17:Issue2/Popularity

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 Installment #17

BOOK ON-LINE:                                                  

H20 TO GO!

Growing Emotional Resiliency & Navigating Through Childhood

with Heart, Humor & Optimism

By Margo Judge
Gaining Perspective One issue At A Time (Chapter 3 cont'd
Issue # 2: It's Not About Popularity 
All through school, our children are juggling how to have friends, be well liked, stay separate, and make their own decisions and right choices even when those choices fly in the face of their friends. (This runs into Moral Dilemmas, which I will talk about at length further on). Not an easy task.

If anyone has ever watched an episode of The Apprentice, one thing is clear. It's very hard to be both a team player and a leader, while trying to survive and accomplish, not get fired and ultimately, win!  It takes advanced social skills to juggle others' personalities without creating enemies, and sophisticated strategy to listen to opposing ideas while getting others to acknowledge yours. Well, our kids face no less in their school environment.                                                                                   


I have enormous empathy for all students who must confront an array of social issues every day. They do not have our freedom to switch jobs, or move, or choose whom we see. They're stuck from Monday to Friday for a good part of their day, in one environment, for better or for worse, and they must find a way to survive socially, while they try to achieve academically. People might say, wait until you're out of school, and in the real world, you'll see, school was easier, I would argue that middle and high school are just as difficult from a student's point of view.                                                                                                           


But, school is also the precursor to future employment, taking direction, and coping with co-workers. And those years teach how to stay on task, finish a project, become disciplined, and responsible, and act ethically. All of which will be neccesary in the real world.


School is our children's first trial job.  Peers are their first co-workers, and teachers are their first bosses. Not all will go well, all the time.  Sometimes, it will go terribly wrong.  This is no different than in the outside world. We can all take a look at our own job experiences and find lots of examples of annoying co-workers, and very difficult bosses. We can build Perspective by attaching their experiences with ours. And because so many of us work, this is a natural connection to share with our children.  A bad hair day is a bad hair day, all around!  Even if we are stay-at-home moms we can find connections from our own school, friend and community experiences.  It is so important to our children that we talk to them about our own experiences. It is invaluable in putting their world into context.                                                                         


In the larger scheme of things, therefore, what advice can we give our middle school kids grappling with how to present themselves to their peers? They need a focus and a goal.  Kids always need a goal to keep them moving forward. What should they be looking for while they are walking this part of the path?  We can look at our child and ask the following?  What trait do you think is most valuable to have in school, with friends or for teachers or coaches? 

Most probably, they will not know.                                                                           

Well, It is NOT being the smartest.  It is NOT being the strongest or most powerful, or most talented or model-beautiful or mode handsome.  And it is definitely NOT being the most popular. All these can be lost in a heartbeat.  No one can always be the best. Some people will never be the strongest.  Power can be bought or taken by force. (As in a bully). All of us have some talent for something, but not everyone will play in the majors, or become a recording artist. Each of us has inner beauty but not everyone will be able to model in a magazine. And most importantly, no one should really want to make being popular or accepted a desired trait  It is the most dangerous, and do you know why?

They will not know that either. So, we can offer a truism.                                                                            

People who need to be popular will do whatever they have to do to be popular. They might lie, or cheat, be manipulative or mean just so they can achieve approval and acceptance.. People my age do this too! (Future Perspective) So, what do you think is the best possible praise you can get from your peers, friends, teachers coaches instructors or parents? (Let your child throw out some ideas) Thenwe can reveal that it is Respect.  And what is so great about respect? You can create it and control it by behaving a certain way. And, you then receive it for all the right reasons. Strive to be respected.  That means- being a good friend, acting honorably in your work, acknowledging others support and assistance, being responsible and keeping promises. And it is a life trait, not just for this moment in time.


Respect and Sex

It also means respecting your body and your privacy. Girls, are you listening? You do not want to flaunt your body. That might gain you attention but it will not gain you respect.  You do not want to give it away or offer it as bribe.  It may make you feel desired and pretty, but it not will gain you esteem.  You are special.  You are unique. You owe yourself a value.  Your body is the most precious commodity you own besides your heart. You do not cheapen it. You do not throw it away. And no one should fool you into thinking that exposing your body will bring you love or acceptance. That is not true love or real acceptance. Here comes the what -if? to ask your daughter:                                                               

Let's say a boy asks you, come on baby, you know I love you, pose for me. It's something I can look at when we're not together.  What would you do?  What if he says giving him oral sex is a way of  showing you love or trust him?  What would you do?  (I know I am being frank here, but it is really important that you can ask your daughter these questions.  (Believe me 13 and 14 year olds know what is going on in the afternoons.) What if your girl friends think sexting would be fun to do after school or at a sleep over, and to send to other friends? What do you think is the danger in that?


Then we can xhare two other truisms that apply to everyone (Perspective) 1)  If anyone asks you to do something because it's going to prove your love, or make HIM/HER love you more, that's a HUGE red flag. Warning, warning. Danger up ahead!  They are NOT thinking of you or your feelings at all. they are thinking about themselves. Sex does not prove anything-especially love.  Love comes totally independent of sex. 2) If someone keeps trying to convince you even though little buttons are going off inside saying-I don't want to do this, I don't want to do this, then they are not trying to make you feel safe and loved.  They are trying to get you to say yes to what they want. When someone wants sex from you they will say all sorts of things--don't worry, it will be fun, or I love you, or don't be scared. Well, here's a test.  Tell a boy you do not want to hook up or do anything and see if he still  loves you the next day. If he does then he truly respects your feelings.  If he doesn’t, and has attitude and says, you don’t trust me then you know the truth.  Parents, this is an easy how-to-know for your daughters.


Girls, when you respect yourself, you do not allow anyone to make decisions for you. You have the power to say no, and decide what you do not do. And do you know how you get that power? By trusting your instincts. see Growing A heart/Instincts  You know when something doesn't feel right.  A button goes off inside of you immediately!  That button represents your instincts and you must always trust your instincts--they are your best friends. And never ever let anyone dull them with drugs or alcohol. That is one of the greatest arguments for NOT getting drunk or high in any social settings where you have no control. You lose your best  friends.


Growing up is a process with lots of mistakes made along the way. But some mistakes are long lasting such as pregnancy sexually transmitted disease, and sexting.  So our young teens need to think long and hard in advance about certain choices.  We can ask them: Will you treasure a baby and respect a chjild’s needs enough to realize that as a teenager you will have absolutely nothing to offer it?  Will you respect your body enough to be responsible for your sexual health?  If you are old enough to be thinking about sex, then you are also old enough to know the dangers of sex.  Will you respect intimacy and privacy enough not sextext nude photos of yourself that will end up on the Internet, no matter what anyone promises you?  And, do you realize that they are there for life. Your children will see them.


Think about people whom you admire. Think about why they become heroes and role models and why they are well respected and held in such high esteem by so many. You will find that it has nothing to do with Popularity.


The Value of Respect                                                                      

If we can plant this one word-Respect in our children's heads early, and if we can keep bringing it up in many different contexts-respect for education, respect for teachers and instructors/coaches, respect for parents, and family and friends, respect one's body, and for someone else's body, they will move step by step in the direction of that value system.


If we can help our middle schoolers, in particular, understand the distinction between Popularity and Respect, we give them another future Perspective. There is no contest between Popularity and Respect. Popularity is moment driven acceptance, (depending on who's in and who's out).  It is superficial in value (based on such things as looks or money or material value). It is very fragile (Anything or anyone could topple it and it would be gone in an instant)


Respect is long lasting esteem. (It is built brick by brick very carefully) It is genuine (Made from valuable qualities such as ethics and principles). It is far more powerful (Once built, it carries enormous weight in the outside world). 


Respect offers our children a guide for communicating and interacting in the world. (And I will talk of this further in the Chapter-Manners, A Philosophy) It keeps our children on a well lit path and away from dangerous side roads. If they can journey with Respect, they will become thoughtful and ethical young people whose values will help develop moral courage and emotional strength.


 So we can tell our young teens that with Respect comes true popularity.  Gain respect and they will have to be acknowledged at some point-as a student, a friend, or person. And this will be particularly true of athletes.  I was a baseball mom whose son played in college.  I can tell  all you student athletes that as you go up the ladder, it will take a lot more than just talent.  Coaches will be looking for the team player who respects fellow teammates, the game, the coaches, and the rules.  If there are two prospects  with equal skill, coaches will choose the player they respect the most.

Finally, you can look at your child, give him/her a big hug and say--I love you and moreover, I respect you. Even if we do not yet know if we do and even if we're not sure they are respect worthy, we still need to say this to our children just as we have to say I believe in you. Telling our children  we  respect them is a very powerful push forward in the right direction for them. It says we  see the best in them and their capabilities. We are our children’s mirrors. Our children will see themselves the way we see them. If they feel we respect them they will respect themselves. It will give them moral courage. All of a sudden, your child will look at himself or herself more positively and put a higher premium and value upon themselves in relationship to others.  Promise!

Next Installment: #18

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