Teaching Your Teens and Tweens to Be Outstanding
As teens and tweens navigate the slippery road to adulthood, they receive many mixed messages on how to look and how to act. What made them unique in elementary school could cause them to be a social outcast in middle school. As a result, teens and tweens, especially girls, shy away from being their best selves, or standing out, and instead try to blend in.
While many times this message of blending in comes from their peers, it can also come from adults.
In 2011, we returned to the US after spending four years traveling as a family, sailing the Caribbean and backpacking through South America. When we left on our adventure, our daughter was six years old, a first grader and our son was ten and in fifth grade.
Our children really grew up on the boat, not just physically, but emotionally. Our son, who was normally shy, became more outgoing, and really took on the role of a leader. He helped navigate the boat, plotted courses and guided us through South America.
Our outgoing daughter became our ambassador and was always the first one to make friends. She showed an incredible knack for thinking quickly on her feet and for coming up with new solutions for problems. One look at her and you knew this was a girl who loved life and adventure.
When we returned to the US, my son entered high school and my daughter entered sixth grade. Imagine, your last public school adventure was the shelter of first grade, where life was crayons, songs and rainbows, and now you are thrust into the raging hormones, cliques, and identity crisis of middle school.
That first year, my daughter had a tough time navigating this new paradigm of constant scrutiny and the worry of not fitting in. Her self-confidence was slowly replaced with self-doubt. Knowing that the middle school mind was fickle, and what was “in” today was usually “out” tomorrow, I tried to let her work through it on her own.
When she wanted to try out for cheerleading, I was supportive until I went to the first meeting.
“We want all the girls to dress, look and act alike. We don’t want any girl to stand out,” said the coach.
When I heard that, my mouth dropped open. Are you kidding me? It was one thing for peers to pressure a child to “blend in”, but this was coming from an adult.
My daughter had climbed to a glacier atop the volcano Cotopaxi, swam in the Amazon, repelled down a 120 foot waterfall in Ecuador, traveled to more than thirty countries, swam with sharks, and an adult, a coach, was telling her that she should blend in and not show her true spirit. This was unacceptable to me, both as a mom and a woman.
While I understood the point the coach was trying to make, I also understood that young girls tend to take things literally, so I sat my daughter down and reminded her of all the incredible things she had done over the last four years. I told her it wasn’t just the fact that she had accomplished these things that made her unique – it was her attitude, her spark for new adventures and her way of looking at life differently than most of her peers. She needed to embrace her uniqueness and it was just as important that she encouraged others to embrace their own uniqueness.
She protested of course. “Mom, it’s just for cheerleading.”
Maybe it was “just for cheerleading”, but my fear is that once our children, our impressionable young daughters, hear that kind of talk from adults and start making that compromise, it’s never ending. I would love to say that my daughter immediately understood what I was trying to say, but she didn’t, not totally. It will be an ongoing conversation, as it should be.
Not every son or daughter has done what my kids have, but every child is outstanding in their own way. We owe it to our kids to help them find and embrace their passion, their uniqueness and to shy away from people who discourage that. We need to let them know that it’s important to never compromise on who they really are. It’s a lesson we can all learn as adults too. Life is too short to blend in.
Carla and her husband knew there had to be more to life than climbing the corporate ladder. They sold their house, sold and gave away most of their possessions, bought a sailboat, took their two young children and sailed away. For 4 years they sailed through the Caribbean, backpacked through South America, and RV’d across the US. You can read all about their adventures in her new book, A Life Without Borders . Her website is ALifeWithoutBorders.com
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