4-H 4EVER Pop­u­lar to be you

The Covington News - - Local news - Terri Kim­ble

SUVs. Mus­cle cars. Jans­port book­bags. Izod shirts. Big hair. Let­ter­man jack­ets. A pop­u­lar ath­lete’s let­ter­man jacket. Tight rolled jeans. Low waist lines.

The ob­jects and trends vary by the decade, but every­one can name things that made them envy other stu­dents.

Talk­ing to teens and tweens about pop­u­lar­ity, I’ve heard stu­dents name a stu­dent they classified as “pop­u­lar,” then heard that stu­dent name yet other peo­ple.

At this age, ev­ery de­tail is im­por­tant, from the friends you have to the clothes you wear to how you get to school each day.

Most stu­dents I spoke with also seemed to be­lieve that the most pop­u­lar teens were those that ex­cluded oth­ers and even put them down pub­li­cally.

Five min­utes into the evening news cast we find prom­i­nent ex­am­ples of this be­hav­ior in the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

It frus­trates me to see what boils down to hearsay and name call­ing from the men and women who want to be the pub­lic face of our coun­try, in­stead of fo­cus­ing on their own strengths and po­si­tions.

Flip to an­other chan­nel and find talk shows with peo­ple pulling hair, yelling, and throw­ing chairs.

Flip again, and find celebrity talk shows where gos­sip and fail­ure are the top sto­ries.

Switch from the tele­vi­sion to the In­ter­net and find even more ex­am­ples, of­ten even closer to home.

Stu­dents are cruel in per­son, but even cru­eler on­line when they don’t have to face the ob­ject of their ridicule.

In school, stu­dents pass notes about oth­ers. On­line, they can post em­bar­rass­ing pho­tos and sto­ries for every­one in school to read.

Most mid­dle school­ers I talk with are not even sure what steps they can take to fight cy­ber bul­ly­ing, but nearly all have wit­nessed it.

It’s no sur­prise that teens and tweens are so hard on them­selves and each other.

Even back in the “per­fect world” of “Leave it to Beaver” the stu­dents teased each other and talked about who was wear­ing a cer­tain boy’s sweater.

Pos­si­bly even more im­por­tant than the re­search-based facts and in­for­ma­tion we teach in 4H, I wish the youth could learn how to get be­yond the eter­nal quest for pop­u­lar­ity and just be them­selves.

There were class­mates I did not want to be friends with be­cause they might make me even more un­pop­u­lar.

I taped the cuff of my jeans to make them ap­pear nar­rower at the an­kle, and wasted time wor­ry­ing over whether any­one would no­tice.

I looked on with envy at stu­dents who teased oth­ers, think­ing they were some­how per­fect enough to be able to crit­i­cize the rest of us.

At a 4-H event my se­nior year, a younger 4-H’er told me she wished she was more like me. Me!?

I had no clue what to say as she de­scribed how she saw me as con­fi­dent, suc­cess­ful and happy, and with a ton of friends.

While I dis­agreed with her, it made me eval­u­ate my­self in­stead of just see­ing my­self as I thought oth­ers saw me.

She was right— I had found hob­bies that I was re­ally pas­sion­ate about. I en­joyed writ­ing and vol­un­teer work, and found a lot of op­por­tu­ni­ties in both ar­eas.

Through writ­ing for the school pa­per and The Cov­ing­ton News, I won awards, in­clud­ing recog­ni­tion in a na­tional stu­dent jour­nal­ist con­test.

And while I al­ways felt like I was try­ing to be one of those cer­tain kids, in the mean time I had built a net­work of friends across the state.

Th­ese friends were more likely to teach some­one to dance, rather than tease a wall­flower.

The friends I met at 4-H events were there be­cause they wanted to be there. They wanted to be bet­ter leaders, par­tic­i­pate in more ser­vice projects, and learn more about their in­ter­ests.

We all ar­rived in a 15-passenger van or a big yel­low school bus. We slept in the same lumpy bunk beds and show­ered in the same cramped show­ers.

For me, 4-H lev­eled the play­ing field. It helped me to find my own pas­sion in life rather than copy­ing some­one else’s who I thought was more per­fect.

Per­haps Dr. Seuss put it best: “Be who you are and say what you feel be­cause those who mind don’t mat­ter and those who mat­ter don’t mind.”

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