The Quest for High School ‘Cool’

22 Oct

As I mentioned in my last post, I am Running Away From Home(Coming)(, getting to the homecoming day and dance through the thick web of some parental micro-management was a real trip… It got me thinking about all the times I’ve wanted to write – but didn’t – about what drives certain kinds of parents. What makes them so willing to risk hurting and disregarding other kids and their own purportedly good friends by stepping on whoever’s toes they need to in order to propel their own children to that self-perceived (and by self-perceived I mean – not usually real) spot of ‘popularity’?


The time is definitely now.


In the same vein as the piece about Homecoming, my impetus for putting this kind of stuff out there is so that ALL of us – me included – can evaluate what kind of effect we have on and what kind of impression we make on the kids we are raising. The ones who are constantly looking at us and will someday either model our behavior or run the other way.


(And by the way, I see that I am not the only one addressing the madness – I read a fabulous post talking about parents who are making a career out of getting their kids into college. Please read the back–up to my thoughts here:


But first – a relevant story from Ben’s past…


When Ben was in 2nd grade, his best friend who he had been together with since pre-school, was suddenly skipped up to 3rd grade in the middle of the school year (exceedingly bright boy, he was – and is). And even though Ben had other school friends, he was worried that because he spent so much time with this friend, that the other kids wouldn’t want to be close with him.


When he shared his fear of not being liked, I asked him to name someone in his grade that all the kids seemed to really like. Without hesitation, he mentioned a boy named Jack. I asked him why. “He’s really nice to everyone, he plays with a lot of different people at recess and he always shares his pencils.”


I explained to Ben then – as I have many times since – that being popular is very different than being liked. And in fact, often when we take a good look around, we see that many of the self-declared or mom-managed ‘it’ group aren’t terribly well liked at all. They may be revered. They may be intimidating. They may have confidence. But well liked? Not so much, really – ask any 2nd grader. Most of us aren’t partial to exclusive, unkind or seemingly untouchable.


So who would actually control their children’s friendships instead of encouraging them to find friends they are naturally drawn to? What could drive a parent to actually shape their child’s every move and dictate their interactions? The same kind of parent willing to fight all of their kids’ battles and protect them from every single hurt they could ever experience? Could an over-bearing, always-saving grown-up not see that if we don’t teach our kids to communicate and advocate for themselves at an early age, that they will not only not know how to survive (and even fail) in the real world, but even worse, they may not understand that there are situations that their moms and dads cannot buy, talk or bully them out of?


I make mistakes in parenting every day (just ask my son). I don’t have all the answers and I have done my share of protecting or excusing Ben from certain things along the way. But as he has grown, he has been required to email or talk to teachers all by himself when there’s an issue or question. If he can’t make basketball practice, he texts his coach. If he has a problem getting along with a friend, we may offer ways he might choose to handle it, but wouldn’t dream of calling a parent simply to complain that their son ate lunch at another table! And yes, I read his texts (Like I did here: and here: and check his Twitter to make sure he’s conducting himself age-appropriately, so I am aware of his social life to a degree – but I don’t handle his affairs for him – and there is a difference.


In fact, just yesterday, Ben woke up (later than he should, because he goes to bed later than he should) only to realize that he ‘forgot’ (read: procrastinated) about a rather lengthy study guide worth lots of extra credit points in a class where he was to take a test midday. Never mind that actually filling out the study guide over the weekend would have helped him completely prepare for the test so that he wouldn’t have been up half the night cramming. Anyway, he begged me to let him stay home and miss first block to complete the packet – he presented it as a matter of life and death. You cannot believe how badly I wanted to save him – to make it all better. Instead, I not so calmly explained (right – like he was listening) that if he gets a crummy grade or gets in trouble that maybe he’ll remember next time. I refused to bend (despite his angry retort: “I would do it for my kid”) and drove him off to school. I still have a headache a day later.


My last point or two comes from looking around at my vintage friends’ children – all in their 20’s and 30’s. Some were truly geeky, others were all the rage; a few were brilliant, some struggled. A couple played in the band and others played football. Some of their parents backed off, a few got it just right and still others hovered as much as I see parents hovering now (and the helicopter parents – looking back – would tell you that they wished they would have realized how much harder they made their children’s lives by trying to make it easier).


But as I look at those adult kids now – I see that they all made it through. Most found partners that they are building beautiful lives with – ultimately without the intrusion of their moms. They look back on their years in high school and wonder why all that stuff mattered. I say it mattered because it DOES matter – everything matters in a certain time/space continuum, doesn’t it? But mostly, it matters what we end up doing with all the things we experienced along the way.


I wish bubble parents could look around and see that the kids in the band that they (and their “cool” kids) might think are bores – are looking at the self-assessed popular group with disdain for their disregard for other students – or maybe their perceived superficial lack of culture or poor taste in music. The Forensics team members may seem like nerds to the supreme group, but those kids have a discipline, purpose and work ethic that will propel them into great futures. Maybe those alternative type kids get annoyed with the ‘it’ kids that goof off in class or rely on others in study groups. The Goth kids may perceive more generally accepted kids as label whores with no depth or understanding of life and its problems. The list goes on and on…


Maybe we will never understand what kind of desperation drives a number of parents toward all things they deem popular? Is it a quest to relive – or finally live – their own glory days? Is it some kind of (mis) judgment that these trendy high school students go on to be more successful adults? And what of these kids once they’re off to college where it’s virtually impossible to define or control “popular” among 15,000 – 35,000 students? I’m worn out just thinking about how exhausting it must be for these parents to make their kids the supreme rulers such a high daily priority.


In the end, this is what’s important – teaching and preaching to our kids to be nice to everyone, play with lots of different people and share their pencils.


And we should do the same…


2 Responses to “The Quest for High School ‘Cool’”

  1. Erika October 22, 2014 at 9:47 pm #

    YOU ARE AWESOME (big word…7 letters) Not only for the stories you share but for truly living exactly as you believe, not always an easy dance!!

  2. DeAnn October 23, 2014 at 6:10 am #

    Great read, great lesson. We’ve got to stop living through our children and let them be accountable. Besides teaching responsibility it breeds confidence – they learn they can handle the situations themselves.

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