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Thoughts about teens, tweens, parenting and this adventure of living on Earth in the 21st century.

Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

What other people think

April 5, 2011

That doesn't bother me... much

Tweens and teens are famously self-conscious around their peers. The risk of falling short of what’s “cool” can be so intimidating it’s a wonder they crawl out of the sack and get themselves to school. Each day 160,000 American kids don’t bother. They can’t deal with the judgement, put-downs and out-and-out cruelty from other students so they stay home.

I know at least one adult who also wrestles with self-doubts. Before I leave the house for a speaking gig,  I stress over my hair and what I’m wearing, especially when I’m presenting to middle schoolers. I try on a half dozen different tops, pants, earrings in an attempt to look cooler. I know it’s a total crap shoot and I’m sure I often fail miserably, but I make the effort because I want the kids to accept me. Kinda sweet and kinda pathetic too.

Why does it matter so much what other people think? Well, as a species we’re programed to try to get other folks to like us. We’re not the fiercest beasts in the jungle so we need to team up to survive. A team works for the mutual benefit of all members only if those members are on good terms.

And so, throughout the millennia, we’ve become skilled at decoding each other’s micro-expressions – fleeting facial indications of fear, disgust, surprise, approval, etc. When we see disapproval, it’s time to back-pedal… quick!

For example, suppose we’re chatting and I say, “Wow! Last night for dinner we had the best steamed okra.” I’m about to add, “You’ve gotta try this recipe!” But before I do, I detect a Yuck expression flit across your face. Uh-oh…  I offended you. I’m in trouble! If you vote to kick me off the team my survival’s at stake. I’ve gotta figure a fast, face-saving move. I’ve got it! “Of course, not everyone likes okra…” I say with a charming smile. You nod and smile back. Phew! That was close!

I created this quiz to help kids start thinking about all this. Share it with your child. Take it yourself. Food for thought. Tastier than okra.

DO I WORRY TOO MUCH WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK?*

  1. If my friends think something is funny, I’ll laugh even if I don’t get the joke. True/False
  2. The worst thing is to do something embarrassing in front of people. T/F
  3. If everyone’s seen a movie but me, I’ll say I saw it. T/F
  4. If my parents think something’s a “good” idea, I’m suspicious. T/F
  5. I hate making decisions cause it sucks to be wrong. T/F
  6. I’m never the first person to give my opinion. T/F
  7. I’ve dropped out of an activity I liked because none of my friends were into it. T/F
  8. It’s risky to say how you really feel. T/F
  9. If someone makes fun of what I’m wearing, I won’t wear it again. T/F
  10. If my friends think something’s cool, I’ll try it even if I’m not sure I’ll like it. T/F

7-10 Trues: You worry what others think and it brings you down.With a boost in self-confidence and support from family and friends, you’ll trust yourself more and enjoy being you.

3-6 Trues: Sometimes it’s hard for you to stand up for yourself, but when you do it feels good. You’re getting better all the time at being your own person.

0-2 Trues: You hardly ever worry what others think because you’re self-confident and have a lot of self-respect. You may not know it, but people respect you for who you are.

*Excerpted from Be Confident in Who You Are, Book 1 of my Middle School Confidential series. Just released as a graphic novel iPad app (for ages 8-14) and now available from iTunes.

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5 Comments »

  1. I love the story — but especially the caption under the pic. Too funny! Thanks for this. It’s nice to know that, as a 50-year-old, when I start fretting about how I look it’s because I’m evolutionarily programed to do so. : )
    My youngest is 15 now, but he’s a colossal fashion/brand lover. A big time image thing is going on. MR. COOL is in the house. Is that developmental? He’s pretty confident — but still. Oi….

    Comment by Pam @writewrds — April 5, 2011 @ 5:13 pm

  2. You know I sort of worried about those things but not I REALLY don’t care what people think (other than my family of course) but that sometimes gets me in trouble. Especially when I have a smart assed comment or two to go along with my indifference.

    As a Kid I could have never pulled it off but now as a crusty old curmudgeon, it works great.

    My eldest daughter is the type who dares to be different and pulls it off very well yet me youngest is SUPER self conscious and does not dare stray from the social politics of grade 3.

    I envy those like my eldest and empathize with those like my youngest. All we can do is the best with what we have and hope others accept that.

    Comment by Old School Parent — April 7, 2011 @ 9:28 pm

  3. As a teenager I pretended not to care what others thought, but was CONSTANTLY seeking to win approval. From everyone. Teachers, parents, peers…it was EXHAUSTING.

    I don’t think I really knew who I was and what I really liked by the time I was 20, I had spent so much time trying to be so many different people, without looking like I was.

    Maybe I should have taken this test back then. Probably not a bad idea to take it now. :)

    Comment by Amber — May 4, 2011 @ 10:43 am

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