4-H 4EVER Popular to be you
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.”