“Why can’t our family just be like everyone else?”
“I just want to be normal.”
“If you come to pick me up, don’t wear that coat / outfit / hair style.”
The cry of many a teenager! They strive for uniformity. But they also want to feel unique.
Feeling more self-aware than ever before, often makes a teen not want to stand out. At the same time, they crave the affirmation that special attention brings:
“I want to be me… but I want that me to be like everyone else.”
“I want to be special and unique… but I don’t want to be different.”
Peer pressure is to conform to the values of the peer group. School pressure is to conform to the culture of the school. Parental pressure is often to conform to the values of the family.
It is impossible for a child to be like their friends, and as the school wishes them to be, and comply to family expectations, and still discover who they are.
Kids can experience great conflict when they’re trying to fit in at school and at home – and still be their own person.
But fitting in isn’t the same as belonging. Belonging is about being yourself first and then discovering who you like to hang out with, what you enjoy doing, whilst still being yourself. Fitting in is tying yourself into knots to try to be what you imagine others want you to be. You lose yourself.
Some children draw inside and seem to comply, others will rebel; both these reactions are acts of self-preservation but neither lead to a true expression of self. Both hurt.
You gain a sense of belonging when you let people see who you really are. You can only do that if you believe that you are acceptable as you are – with all your faults, strengths, and quirky habits. If our children don’t believe themselves to be acceptable as they are, then they are prone to try to fashion themselves into something other than their true self. This can continue their whole lives.
The trouble is, many parents feel that it is their job to mould their children. We don’t trust children to be good, honest, upstanding people. We believe that we must make them so. Too many childhoods are spent feeling chastised, criticized, guided and shaped. Many children start to believe that they need to be different to be acceptable. When these children grow up they continue this process internally, being self-critical and trying to transform themselves into someone they believe they should be.
Children need us to respect who they actually are – and not try to change them.
They need us to champion their individuality.