In the blink of an eye, my son went from trying to be cute to rolling his eyes and using all the sarcasm. One particular morning at church, his sister kept telling on him and letting me know he was being flat-out rude and hurtful. When I went to assess the situation, what was the first thing I noticed? He had an audience of older kids he was trying to impress. Watching him made me ask: “Why do kids just want to act cool?”
Yeah, I know it’s to impress their friends and to be popular. But it’s rooted in insecurity. Preteens start to wonder if they are enough, if they fit in, and if they’ll be accepted for who they are. If you’re not sure if your kid is succumbing to this pressure, look for these 5 signs and learn the risks associated with each attempt at popularity.
1. They take themselves too seriously.
When he tries to act older than he is, my son gets offended way more easily. The things he normally laughs off become a source of tension for him. When he and his brother were throwing a football around, it hit him in the head. Normally, he would find this hilarious, but our neighbor was outside too. My son was embarrassed at how uncool it looked and instead lashed out at his older brother.
Tell your kid that being cool means having a cool temper. The path to popularity isn’t worth it if you leave a wake of damaged relationships behind you.
The path to popularity isn’t worth it if you leave a wake of damaged relationships behind you.
2. Their language changes.
I’m convinced the fourth grade is a powerhouse factory for some new slang that can’t even be found on Urban Dictionary. Why do kids just want to act cool with a new language? Because it helps them feel connected to their peers and makes them feel autonomous. Unfortunately, sometimes this new language includes curse words or words that can hurt others.
Talk with your kids about how their words can build up or tear down others. There is power in our language, even words said just one time.
3. They get anxious.
After being home for a long break from school, my son gets super anxious about going back. He associates school with having to impress his peers and teachers and having to measure up to his siblings. I can’t take that pressure away, but I can encourage him to be himself.
We can’t be with our kids the entirety of their school day, but knowing you’re a safe place at the end of it will mean the world to them.
4. They get in trouble with their teachers more often.
My daughter started getting low grades on her math quizzes and I started getting messages from her teacher. It turned out she was getting teased for doing her work instead of sneaking notes with her friends. It really is the classic reason kids try to act cool: They just want to impress other kids by breaking the rules.
Talk to your child about what makes a good friend. The greatest friends don’t need to be impressed.
5. They start hanging out with new friends.
My oldest son had a really great friend when he was younger. Although his friend was a couple of years older, he and my son basically grew up together. But as his friend started feeling the pressure to fit in, he stopped hanging out with my son. Instead, he tried to impress some older kids who were not up to any good. Because my son was on the receiving end of his friend’s rejection, he knows it hurts and refuses to do it to anyone else.
When kids are trying to be cool, it’s important to remind them to consider the people who are affected by their choices.
From your experience, why do kids just want to act cool? What do you do to remind your kids about the price of popularity?