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