Not be­ing ac­cepted at school kids’ big­gest fear

The Covington News - - Religion -

Ques­tion: Why are kids so vul­ner­a­ble? How do you ex­plain this par­a­lyz­ing so­cial fear at an age when they are no­to­ri­ously gutsy? There is very lit­tle else that scares them. Teenagers drive their cars like ma­ni­acs and the boys make great com­bat sol­diers. Why is it that an eigh­teen-year-old can be trained to at­tack an en­emy gun em­place­ment or run through a mine­field, and yet he pan­ics in the noisy com­pany of his peers? Why are they so fright­ened of each other?

DR. DOB­SON: I be­lieve the an­swer is re­lated to the na­ture of power and how it in­flu­ences hu­man be­hav­ior. Ado­les­cent so­ci­ety is based on the ex­er­cise of raw force. That is the heart and soul of its value sys­tem. It comes in var­i­ous forms.

For girls, there is no greater so­cial dom­i­nance than phys­i­cal beauty. A truly gor­geous young woman is so pow­er­ful that even the boys are of­ten ter­ri­fied of her. She rules in a high school like a queen on her throne, and in fact, she is usu­ally given some honor with ref­er­ences to royalty in its name (Home­com­ing Queen, Home­com­ing Princess, All-School Queen, Sweet­heart’s Queen, Foot­ball Queen, etc.).

The way she uses this sta­tus to in­tim­i­date her sub­jects is in it­self a fas­ci­nat­ing study in ado­les­cent be­hav­ior.

Boys de­rive power from phys­i­cal at­trac­tive­ness, too, but also from ath­letic ac­com­plish­ment in cer­tain pre­scribed sports. Those that carry the great­est sta­tus are usu­ally skilled in sports that exhibit sheer phys­i­cal strength (foot­ball) or size (bas­ket­ball.)

Do you re­mem­ber what the world of ado­les­cence was like for you? Do you re­call the power games that were played — the highly com­pet­i­tive and hos­tile en­vi­ron­ment into which you walked ev­ery day? Can you still feel the ap­pre­hen­sion you ex­pe­ri­enced when a pop­u­lar (pow­er­ful) stu­dent called you a creep, or a jerk, or he put his big hand in your face and pushed you out of the way?

He wore a foot­ball jer­sey, which re­minded you that the en­tire team would eat you alive if you should be so fool­ish as to fight back. Does the mem­ory of the ju­nior-se­nior prom still come to mind oc­ca­sion­ally, when you were ei­ther turned down by the girl you loved, or were not asked by the boy of your dreams? Have you ever had the cam­pus he­roes make fun of the one flaw you most wanted to hide, and then threaten to man­gle you on the way home from school?

Per­haps you never went through th­ese stress­ful en­coun­ters. Maybe you were one of the pow­er­ful elite who op­pressed the rest of us. But your son or daugh­ter could be on the re­ceiv­ing end of the flak. A few years ago, I talked to a mother whose sev­enth-grade daugh­ter was get­ting butchered at school each day. She said the girl awak­ened an hour be­fore she had to get up each morn­ing and lay there think­ing about how she could get through her day without be­ing hu­mil­i­ated.

Typ­i­cally, power games are more phys­i­cal for ado­les­cent males than fe­males. The bul­lies lit­er­ally force their will on those who are weaker. That is what I re­mem­ber most clearly from my own high school years. I had a num­ber of fights dur­ing that era just to pre­serve my turf.

The name of the game was power! And not much has changed for to­day’s teenagers.

QUES­TION: Should school­child­ren be re­quired to wear clothes that they dis­like?

DR. DOB­SON: Gen­er­ally not. Chil­dren are very con­cerned about the threat of be­ing laughed at by their friends, and will some­times go to great lengths to avoid that dan­ger. Teens, par­tic­u­larly, seem to feel, “The group can’t laugh at me if I am iden­ti­cal to them.” From this per­spec­tive, it’s un­wise to make a child en­dure un­nec­es­sary so­cial hu­mil­i­a­tion.

Chil­dren should be al­lowed to se­lect their own clothes, within cer­tain lim­its of the bud­get and good taste.

Dr. Dob­son is founder and chair­man of the board of the non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion Fo­cus on the Fam­ily, Colorado Springs, CO 80995 (www. fam­ily. org). Ques­tions and an­swers are ex­cerpted from “Solid An­swers” and “Bring­ing Up Boys,” both pub­lished by Tyn­dale House.

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