The other day I had the opportunity to have a great talk with a couple of fifth-grade girls. More often than not, when I walk into a classroom for a workshop, time prevents more personal, candid conversations. So I was really curious to find out exactly what they thought the real social problems were.
“So, how’s it going?” I asked, casually.
They kind of shrugged at first, until I brought up the topic of popularity. Then it all came tumbling out.
“You seem pretty popular at school,” I said, more as a statement than a question. Still, I got a pretty clear response.
“Yeah, but if you don’t like who they want you to like, you aren’t popular anymore. They make fun of you if you’re nice to some people.”
Evidently, being nice to everyone is no longer cool.
The whole conversation continued, and the more I listened, the more I realized the real issue is that popularity used to be attained with good character and achievement, but now it’s more a contest of wills—a struggle for power at any cost.
I immediately shared my opinion, as I often do.
“Listen, you can’t let them change the goodness of your character. I know it’s hard, but it’s not worth it to be mean to someone just to please them.”
Then I began to wonder…who are they? Where does this come from and when did it begin?
Unfortunately, there’s really only one answer. Character begins at home. Our children learn their core values from us—their parents. And then they go out into the world and have to be strong enough to maintain those values under piles of peer pressure.
I started thinking back to what motivated me to be nice as a kid and I kept thinking about my mom. She didn’t try to be our “friend.” She had expectations. If we had the nerve to treat anyone badly, she had this “look” that truly put the fear of God into our hearts. And my dad backed her up 100 percent. I wanted their approval…that is of course until I hit my early teens. But by then I had a clearer idea of who I wanted to be, based on the values they’d already instilled in me.
When my conversation with these two little girls concluded, I made every effort to leave them feeling supported, and I hoped my behavior would be a good example.
But the truth is the strongest influence will come from their mom and dad. That's how it should be. And, as I’ve said many times, it’s not my place to parent other people’s children.
So where does that leave us? Somehow, we as parents now have a most daunting task. We need to make “kind” cool again.
Who's with me?
Taryn Grimes-Herbert is a screenwriter, performer and the author of the I’ve Got character-building book series for children, and was 2010’s Woman of Achievement in the Arts Honoree for Orange County, NY. Calling upon her professional acting experience on Broadway, film and television, she speaks out and takes her books into classrooms hoping to help kids build character, develop empathy and learn to create a positive future through creative dramatics activities.
Her books can also be found on Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com.
For more information visit: http://www.ivegotbooks.net, Facebook or Twitter.