Are my kids too cool?

In a recent article in the New York Times entitled, “Cool at 13, Adrift at 30,” new research is revealing the dangerous effect of being too cool too soon. Kids were followed from middle school to early adulthood and the results were profound. Kids who were cool as young teens, started a rat-race of popularity and status that drove them to negative behaviors and gaps in maturity.  The article states, "Those early attempts to act older than they were seemed to have left them socially stunted.” 
As parents, we have to pause here and look at the ways we encourage popularity and “coolness” and maybe ratchet it back a notch or two. We all know children have a threshold of what is reasonable to expect at each age in their developing years. It is the job of parents not to overload that threshold. This can easily happen in the way we as parents encourage our budding adolescents to be older, more mature and more worldly than they can handle. We see it in the media every day, child actors or entertainers who become a walking train wreck in their teen years. You would think by now we would learn that kids were meant to be kids. The childhood and early adolescent years are vital development years we must not overlook.
"The researchers grappled with why this cluster of behaviors set young teenagers on a downward spiral." Dr. Allen suggested that "while they were chasing popularity, they were missing a critical developmental 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. Parents should support that behavior and not fret that their young teenagers aren’t ‘popular'.”
It is becoming more clear that being cool may not be the best idea for your child. As parents, we have a critical job helping our kids understand where they fit in the world and outlining appropriate expectations for each stage of life. It is important that we help our children see the dangers of popularity and being considered “cool.” After recently attending my 20 year high school reunion, I completely affirm the research of this article. So many of the “cool kids” from my graduating class have struggled in adult life. I pray that my children, and yours, don’t fall prey to the same struggles.
Here are 8 suggested ways parents can keep their kids from becoming too cool, too fast.
1. Stay behind the technology curve. Technology is currency for the American teenager. When you give your child the latest and greatest, you equip them to be a star among their peers. Sure, we all want to give our kids the best, perhaps an intentional decision to stay behind the technology curve is just what is needed to anchor their social status some. This goes for cars as well. Of course, your child wants a Range Rover at 16, but there is something about driving a beater car that enforces some humility and 
2. Govern exposure to entertainment that is too mature or aggressive for their age. We all know this but too many parents depend on the rating system of movies, TV and video games. Remember, you are dealing with the entertainment industry. They have one motivation - making money. The content our children are exposed to is becoming more and more mature and frankly, inappropriate for teens. My personal opinion is, most PG-13/Teen rated material is largely inappropriate for most people of any age. So many of these entertainment outlets are the source of a mature vocabulary that gives your kid the air of coolness. They will eventually be exposed; however, it may be in their best interest to get there later than their friends.
3. Moderate fashion. Coolness and fashion go hand in hand. Limits are always a good idea with kids. Do not fall into the trap of trying to ensure your son or daughter keep up with the trends of fashion. It is good for them to learn that they cannot have it all and to appreciate the nice things they do have. This is especially true when fashion trends violate expectations of modesty or decency. A good rule of thumb is to limit big fashion purchases to their limited resources or as special gifts on a birthday or Christmas.
4. Give them age-appropriate responsibility at home. Responsibility at home cuts into a child’s freedoms - just like it does for adults. This is a good thing. When kids have too much time on their hands, they usually get into trouble. Especially in the teen years, kids should have enough responsibilities at home that they must pick and choose what social opportunities they can commit to. If you want to prepare your teens for adult life, give them responsibility. Be those uncool parents who actually give their children real responsibilities.
5. Never underestimate the importance of time with family. Make it clear that you consider your child’s involvement with the family as far more important than their next social opportunity with friends. You are well within your prerogative as a parent to expect your teenage child to clock in with the family regularly, and even to decline a “better offer” to hang out with you. This applies to anything and everything from playing board games or attending church together as a family. I am perfectly willing to allow family time to undermine their social life!
6. Reinforce their internal character. Often the popularity and status game is driven by the outward appearance. Make sure to reinforce to your child that their truest value is their character. Expect them to make decisions that align with your values and encourage personal conviction that may cost social status. When possible expose your child to opportunities to help others through acts of service, maybe through your church or a local non-profit. Nothing builds good character like serving others.
7. Celebrate failure as a pathway to greater strength. Don’t save your child from every possible failure. Allow them to get a bad grade, to be second string or to have their heart broken. Don’t bail them out of every lapse in judgment. Sometimes teens need to forget their book bag or homework and have to face the music of irresponsibility with their teachers. Sometimes your teen needs to sit at home while her friends all attend the prom. 
8. Say a firm “NO" when you feel your teen is asking for trouble. Maybe its the invitation to the “party of the century” or a sleepover at the home of a family you don’t know or don’t trust. There will countless times when the desire for status and popularity blinds your teen and you must be their eyes. You must say that firm NO to protect them from a potential danger. Sometimes it means giving them a decent alternative, other times, I tend to think most of the time, you just say “NO” and they have to deal with it. 
I hope these tips are helpful. Are there any I missed? Please comment with your thoughts!
Posted by Andy Savage at 7:34 AM
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