Letting Kids Be Kids

It may be extreme to call it “Revenge of the Nerds,” but the “fast,” uber-popular, pot-smoking, risk-taking and all-around “cool” kids from middle school may be the duds at your 10-year high school reunion.

Or so claim the authors of a new study, “Whatever Happened to the ‘Cool’ Kids? Long-Term Sequelae of Early Adolescent Pseudomature Behavior,” which was published June 11 in the online journal Child Development.

Starting with seventh and eighth graders in middle school cafeterias, the researchers looked at attractiveness, popularity, romantic behavior, “social competence,” substance use and deviant (stealing dollar bills from parents, sneaking into movies) or criminal behavior among nearly 200 study participants over a period of 10 years.

DSCN1510The researchers, defining “pseudomature behavior” as “a desire to achieve social maturity without a concomitant level of emotional and behavioral maturity,” hypothesized that “…minor delinquent activity, precocious romantic involvement and a focus on physical appearance in friendships…linked to early adolescents’ strong desire for peer approval…will predict popularity in the short term…but fade over time.”

Those of us who have attended high school reunions know this to be true.

Even worse, the study’s researchers surmised that precocious behavior – and “overemphasis upon impressing peers” — could lead to lifelong problems in romantic relationships, serious deviant (or criminal) behavior and/or abuse of alcohol and marijuana.

The problem, the study found, is that “adolescents are most likely to engage in [this] behavior when they lack confidence in their capacity to meet the developmental challenge of managing peer relations.” As a result, they don’t hone the tools required for “competence in social relationships in the longer term.”

What’s more, “early reliance on upon minor acts of delinquency to impress peers may…lead to a greater likelihood of associating with deviance prone peers, who in turn would only be impressed by more and more serious acts of deviance over time.”

For more information about these findings, New York Times writer Jan Hoffman interviewed the study’s lead author, Joseph P. Allen, a University of Virginia professor of psychology, for the June 23 article: “Cool at 13, Adrift at 23.”

“These young teenagers sought out friends who were physically attractive; their romances were more numerous, emotionally intense and sexually exploring than those of their peers; and they dabbled in minor delinquency — skipping school, sneaking into movies, vandalism,” Hoffman writes.

Ten years later, in comparison to their “slower-moving” middle-school peers, the study participants had a “45 percent greater rate of problems resulting from alcohol and marijuana use and a 22 percent greater rate of adult criminal behavior, from theft to assaults.

At age 23, Dr. Allen notes, those who were socially advanced at age 13 “are doing more extreme things to try to act cool, bragging about drinking three six-packs on a Saturday night, and their peers are thinking, ‘These kids are not socially competent.…They’re still living in their middle-school world.’

“Those early attempts to act older than they were seemed to have left them socially stunted,” Hoffman states.

Asked to summarize the research findings, Dr. Allen told Hoffman that while they were busy focusing on social status through risky or “pseudomature behaviors,” the teenagers missed a “critical development period.”

“At the same time, other young teenagers were learning about soldering same-gender friendships while engaged in drama-free activities like watching a movie at home together on a Friday night, eating ice cream,” Hoffman writes, adding that Dr. Allen urges parents to “support that behavior and not fret that their young teenagers aren’t “popular.”

“To be truly mature as an early adolescent means you’re able to be a good, loyal friend, supportive, hardworking and responsible,” Dr. Allen told Hoffman.

So, for parents, caregivers and teachers, the important lesson is to let kids be kids. We need to help young teens resist the urge to act older, dress sassier, hang out with influential, older kids and experiment with pot and alcohol.

I think this was easier when we were young. Throughout middle school, I read avidly and spent my weekend nights babysitting. I certainly wasn’t the most popular girl in the seventh grade, and I didn’t care. I knew that once I entered high school, I would gain both social status and a social life through the religious-based youth group my siblings had joined.

I’m sure that the skills those pursuits taught me – reading for pleasure, taking care of kids, earning and managing money – have served me better than premature “seven minutes in Heaven” would have.

Today, short of spending a dozen years in the African bush, as did the main character’s family in Mean Girls, how can parents insulate kids from the social pressures required for popularity?

Today’s youth can watch nearly any movie or TV show via Netflix, Hulu or iTunes. They listen to internet radio on their phones and laptops, and can read blogs, Facebook posts and foreign newspapers at any time online. Through the TV show TMZ, they can track the moves and mishaps of celebrities, and via Twitter they learn what those stars eat for lunch, wear to the gym and drink in clubs.

With screens at their fingertips seemingly nonstop, teens experience a spectrum of influence that far exceeds anything those of us born before 1980 could imagine.

So how do we slow it all down? How do we give our kids permission to remain kids longer? What are your ideas or successful strategies? We’d love to read your comments below.

Linda Williams Rorem, Permission Slips, 30 June 2014
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Heading Home

It started with the realization that my kids’ spring break aligned with my second son’s lacrosse game schedule. We could travel to Ohio for two Saturday games – and even a mid-week one, if we wanted – and spend the rest of the week visiting friends and family nearby.

Using the frequent flier miles and hotel points my husband has accrued through his travel-dependent job, we could enjoy a low-cost, multi-city trip away from home.

However, at some point I realized that “home” was at every stop along the way.

At my son’s college, it’s clear that after a somewhat bumpy year, he is finally acclimated and determined to stay for the duration. His younger brother, following a night in the dorm, seems surprised – and a bit awed: “Everyone knows him, and everyone respects him! His friends say he’s already a legend.”

I know that when my son stays in our house this summer, he will miss his new home.

food carts nycWhen we arrive in NYC, where I lived from ages 21 to 31, I take a deep breath and think, “I’m home.”

My New York home is full of yellow taxis, blaring car horns, crowded, stinky subways, thick accents, food carts, chewy bagels, brusque shopkeepers and honest, straightforward people. Strangers who strike up conversations on the #1 train. A deli owner who complains that his son is slacking on the job. Street performers who pull onlookers into the act.

Home in New York is friends who leave work early and take busses and trains to meet me for a drink. Friends from my first journalism job, my long-surviving book club, my summer rental in Connecticut. Friends who literally watched me grow up, stood beside me all the while and still offer love and support.

A few days later, as we drive to my hometown from O’Hare Airport, I think, “No, this is home.” The familiar yellow-brick bungalows. Super Dawg’s French fries. Dunkin’ Donuts.

My childhood house has belonged to other families for 30 years. My mother’s apartment still does not feel like home. My brother’s house – which once belonged to a high school friend – is a bit more comfortable, but still isn’t home.

Evanston has changed significantly over the years. The Central Street Baskin and Robbins shop, where I learned to scoop ice cream and count change, disappeared long ago. So did Herdrich’s, the Fotomat, Mr. Meyer’s shoe store and Uncle Ed’s grocery.

The Prudential bank, where I established my first account and procured my first set of dishes, is now a Starbucks.Field's clock

Marshall Field’s, where we purchased special clothes that weren’t available in the Sears Catalog, was converted to condos, a restaurant and small shops years ago. Betty’s of Winnetka, where we searched for Cotillion and Prom dresses, is gone.

I walk around as a stranger in a strange land. I don’t bump into people I know. I’m not familiar with most of the restaurants and stores.

And then, my niece leads me to Bennison’s bakery, where I used to buy chocolate donuts and smiley-face cookies on the way to the YMCA for swim team, gymnastics and Y-club meetings.

The donuts and cookies taste the same. The Y still stands.

Early one morning, my oldest and dearest friend – who I met when we were babies – joins me at the hotel for breakfast. Talking with Ann is like putting on a pair of well-worn slippers. They fit just right. They’re comfortable. They know where you’re headed and where you’ve been.

The waiter appears at our table, and smiles in recognition. He’s the same server that has brought my family orange juice during at least 15 annual visits. His warm smile feel like home.

The following day, another wonderful old friend drives in from Chicago for breakfast. As always, we speak openly and honestly about our joys and challenges, our dreams and disappointments. My daughter, fresh out of bed, stops by our table. “Did you know I met your mom when I was your age?” Chris asks Pea. Again, home.

rocks skylineThat afternoon, several family members – both Evanston- and Seattle-based – walk to the lakefront. After an excruciatingly long, cold, snowy winter, the sun has finally made an appearance. Northwestern students cavort in shorts and T-shirts. Birds chir and squirrels scramble for food.

Chicago’s impressive skyline emerges in the south.

We stop at the large rocks that line the coast. The same rocks I had played on as a child, waiting for a turn on the sailboat. The rocks where my friends and I congregated as teens, where I sat with boyfriends and then, years later, watched my own children play.

Some of the rocks bear graffiti affirming couples, announcing feelings, marking occasions. They have been painted and repainted over the years, and yet, still tell the stories of many decades, of the passage of time.

It is then, and there, that I realize my home is not just located in one city; my home is where I feel strong memories and the love of forever friends and family.

– Linda Williams Rorem, 14 April 2014
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Take the Wheel and Drive

Last summer, during the phenomenal BlogHer’13 conference, Lean In‘s Sheryl Sandberg spoke at a breakfast, challenging attendees to think about what they would do if they weren’t afraid…and then do it.

While hundreds of bloggers filled out the large cards found at their tables and stepped into a photo booth to announce their new goals, many of us were too afraid to openly share our fears.

Since that time, though, I have contemplated what changes I would make, or how I would live my life differently, if I had no fear.

I think I’m fairly brave and I have taken some risks in my life, but I have to admit, I have let fear call the shots far too often.

For instance, decades ago I set out to write a novel, and was taking a fiction-writing class at New York University when I met my husband.

Bauer driving 4-10I have filled the past 20 years with reporting, public relations, editing and even technical-writing jobs, even though my husband said he would support my staying home to pen a non-fiction book.

In retrospect, I recognize I kept myself busy with paid work, because I was afraid to fail on my own time.

How about the rest of you?

Given the popularity of Sandberg’s book, as well as a new release from former Today show host Jane Pauley and a moving Bing commercial celebrating brave women, let’s call this the year of living fearlessly.

And, in that vein, I’m going to start my year’s soundtrack with a song by the alternative rock band Incubus.

Several years ago, a friend hosted a graduation party for her college-bound daughter, who I had grown close to through our summer swim and dive club.

Instead of presents, my friend urged party-goers to give her daughter a quote that held special meaning or might guide her through the coming years. After much thought, I decided to transcribe a few lines from the Incubus song “Drive” (1999): “Whatever tomorrow brings ill be there, with open arms and open eyes.”

Those words seemed very appropriate for Brenna, who has a beautiful, positive spirit and definitely greets each day with enthusiasm and an open heart.

However, I later realized the song resonated on another level; it’s about taking control of your own life, of not making choices based on others’ expectations: “Lately I’m beginning to find that when I drive myself, my light is found.”

But perhaps most important, lead singer/ songwriter Brandon Boyd is speaking of courage; of not letting fear dictate how we live our lives:
Sometimes I feel the fear of uncertainty stinging clear,
And I can’t help but ask myself how much I’ll let the fear take the wheel and steer.”

So, this year my goal is to live more courageously, and to stay in the driver’s seat.

I think it’s a valid objective for all of us. Are any fears controlling you?

  • Are you afraid to get out of a difficult relationship, or to give up a dysfunctional friendship? Do you worry about being alone, or about the repercussions of casting out a negative influence?
  • Have you refrained from confronting a friend or relative about something that truly bothers you, for fear of their reaction?
  • Have you stayed in a job too long? Have you stopped growing through your work? Do you dread going to the office each day, or watch the hours tick by slowly?
  • Is it difficult to ask for the promotion or raise you believe you deserve?
  • Are you letting the lack of funds keep you from traveling? Are you waiting for that “perfect time” to see the world?
  • Do you need a push to start over in a new city?
  • Are you afraid to take the necessary steps to give up drinking or smoking, wondering how you’ll live without those crutches?
  • If you need to lose weight or want to get into shape, are you afraid to take that first step with a gym membership?
  • Do you worry that if you are honest with your friends about your struggles, concerns or worries, they will think less of you?

If any of those worries resonate in your life, consider the amazing women who have overcome their own fears to attain goals and reach new heights, several of whom are celebrated in the new Microsoft Bing commercial:

This ode to some of 2013’s bravest women — including Malala Yousafzai, Gabrielle Giffords and Deb Cohen (who danced with her surgical team prior to a double mastectomy) — celebrates “a courageous group of women who have changed the world and shown us all what the human spirit can achieve.”

If they can overcome obstacles and live without fear, what’s stopping you?

Even Jane Pauley has jumped on the “fearless” bandwagon, with a new book that was mentioned in Sunday’s Parade magazine. In Your Life Calling: Reimagining the Rest of Your Life (Simon & Schuster) Pauley shares advice for baby boomers – the youngest of which will turn 50 this year. She advises women to “remain engaged and take risks,” stressing that “Life is scary wonderful. It’s great to learn how resilient you can be.”

Okay, if you haven’t reached mid-life and have no idea who Jane Pauley is, perhaps actress Amy Adams might inspire you. In accepting her Best Actress Golden Globe award last night, Adams thanked her young daughter for “teaching me to accept joy and to let go of fear.”

That’s a great goal for all of us, don’t you think? Here’s to a joyful, fearless 2014.

–       Linda Williams Rorem, 13 Jan. 2014
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Thanks for Giving

Thanks for Giving

Hearty thanks to our Permission Slips readers for your support over this past year. We are happy that we have been able to touch your lives through our posts. Your feedback — through comments on our site, on Facebook, in emails and during “live” conversations — has impacted our lives, too. To those of you readers who are personal friends and family, I am very grateful for all that you have done for me and my loved ones during the past year’s ups and downs. Enjoy your time together today, and stay safe during the Black Friday sales tomorrow.

“Being a male i…

“Being a male in the blogging world is sometimes like being the lone Rooster in a barn full of Hens! Seems the lady bloggers far outnumber the guy bloggers. That’s okay, us bro’s know that the ladies are much better with words any day of the week! But I decided we needed to do a little promotion of some of the Men of the WordPress Writing World.”

We discovered a hilarious daddy-blogger site today, The Brown Road Chronicles (http://brownroadchronicles.com/). Take a look and get ready for some laughs. Be sure to scroll down for his “Men of WordPress” calendar. No beefcake shots, just real bloggers.

Dirty Girls, Part One

My cheeks literally ached during “Spank! The Fifty Shades of Grey” parody at a small theater in Seattle last week.

The audience of middle aged women (plus a few very brave men or hopeful dates) laughed raucously at the “musical,” which features a Bette Midlar-esque character as the popular trilogy’s author, trying to put the steamy scenes she envisions to paper. Two adept actors represented the book’s suave title character and the inexperienced young woman he takes under his wing for sexual adventures.

The evening reaffirmed that laughter definitely is the best medicine.

The outing for my group of gal-pals was organized by a member of our book club. We had discussed the first “Fifty Shades” installment at one of our monthly meetings, and of course often make reference to the books when we are together. The series has inserted itself into our popular culture.

And so, the parody was timely, and an unqualified hit.

When we entered the theater lobby, wr spotted a well-dressed man whipping a seasoned woman’s derrière as her wrists were clamped to boards above her shoulders. Apparently, after the show we could have paid for photos of ourselves in that position. The line was too long for those of us with kids to return to.

I wish I could remember the hilarious lines and scenes that brought tears to my eyes. They probably wouldn’t seem as funny if I repeated them here, anyway.

What I do remember is the buoyant feeling my friends and I shared as we exited. For two hours we had been thoroughly entertained. We had laughed at ourselves a bit– middle-aged women, like the writer portrayed on stage, with tried-and-true sex lives. We had gawked at the male character’s six-pack (or was it an eight pack?), and reveled in Anastasia’s overplayed innocence.

Most of all we, like the “author” on stage, engaged in some healthy escapism. For two hours we forgot about the laundry, dishes, homework and issues at home. For a short while, we thought of nothing but the drama we had actually paid for, and filled our souls with positive energy and good company.

We all need to remember to spend time with our friends, laughing, more often.

– Linda Williams Rorem, 18 February 2012
To subscribe email Permissionslips1@gmail.com

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