Recently I was listening to a favorite spiritual leader, Wayne Dyer, talk about how most people are raised to be ordinary. That grabbed my attention and I thought,
“No Wayne. Not true. People want their kids to be someone, not just ordinary. I’ve talked with hundreds of parents over the years. I know most want more for their kids.”
Then he went on to share that when he says ordinary he means fitting in. Okay, he got me there. I agree! This is the 1st of my 3 PART SERIES on Raising Kids To Fit In.
How do I see adults and society giving kids the message to fit in instead of to just be themselves? How do I see these things affecting kids? The following are messages I have heard in different situations and what I have seen and felt from kids as a result.
~ “Act your age.”
This gives kids the message that there is a “norm” for how we act at certain ages. Yes there are developmentally appropriate measures (do we actually follow these when it would benefit kids??). But comments like this make kids second guess, every moment, how they are “suppose” to act or speak. This leads to anxiety, depression, shutting down, anger, giving up, being unmotivated to list just a few consequences of not trusting ourselves.
I just met with a parent who recognized how she’s been doing this quite often — with the best intentions! She wasn’t trying to be mean to her daughter but rather what she thought was helpful in pointing out the differences. Instead, what she’s noticing though is her daughter has no self esteem. No self confidence. And when the three of us later met, her daughter shared with her mom, “It hurts my heart when you compare me to my friends and how I should be acting.”
Kids perception of messages about how they “should act” tells them that their gut instinct, their unique thoughts and reactions, are wrong. They then begin to look outward to others as to how to behave. Depending who they’re with they try to decide what is “right” or “wrong”.
This is not only soul crushing but scary to consider all the messages out there that kids have access to as possibilities of how they could act. And how confusing to never know what to say or think or even feel.
~ “This is the style now; what people are doing.”
I have talked to some parents who have been able to reflect on how they made sure their child wore clothes that were in style because they figured if they were already struggling socially to fit in or academically, at least they would look like they fit in. Again, good intentions from parents. Doing what they believe they can to give their child every opportunity possible to fit in.
But what kids take away from this is that being me means looking like everyone else. It takes away the inner sense of who I am and replaces it with an outer image dependent on others. Who we are is NOT what we look like or how we dress.
Who we are has nothing to do with how we fit in.
~ “Get good grades. Achieve. Make it to college.”
The pressure put on kids to get good grades, be successful in school or make it to college is astounding. Kids are defining themselves by their performance in school. And I can tell you – this is CRUSHING kids. The number of kids who don’t fit into our current school system is astronomical. Not all kids have strengths in areas of sitting, listening, group work, homework, writing, reading or researching things that they don’t feel matters to them.
So kiddos as young as kindergarten start believing I’m not any good because the messages he hears and tells himself are, “I don’t sit quietly. I don’t focus. I don’t look like the other kids.” I was talking to a 1st grader who told me he was “on a point sheet again”. When I asked why he said, “because I’m not good”. I took a deep breath and told him that was absolutely NOT TRUE. I asked questions about his sheet, “What things do you get smiley faces for?” “I don’t know. I just have to be good like everyone else.” THIS BREAKS MY HEART.
I spent the rest of the session affirming for this little guy all the reasons he is good JUST BECAUSE OF WHO HE IS. He hears message after message that because his little body needs more movement, he isn’t good like everyone else. (He is a super creative kid! The stories he writes are amazing! But he writes his stories at home…) The effects of this on children can be not only low self esteem but a lack of ability to trust their gut, which is devastating.
Where do kids turn then? They begin to watch what everyone else is doing. Scary when you think of the movies, tv shows, games or what peers might be doing or talking about. Is this really what we want for our kids? And then when kids follow the crowd and make poor decisions, adults question why they did it!
Yes, I agree with Wayne Dyer that many kids are being raised to be ordinary, to fit in. As I was reflecting on this, I recognized the impact this has had on my own life. In PART TWO of this series Raising Kids To Fit In, I’ll share some of my personal experiences with this and the effects it’s had on me. Watch for it in your inbox next week!