Popular for the BEST Reasons!

My daughter came home last week looking dejected and disappointed. I asked her what was wrong, and she said she wasn’t popular. And she wanted to be! Her classmates had done oral presentations of some projects in class and each presenter got to choose who presented next, but no one chose her. She will be presenting next Tuesday. As much as I loathed doing oral presentations as a kid, this seems like quite a boon to me, but she doesn’t see it that way. All she knows is that she wasn’t chosen.

The quest for popularity is something that has been important to my daughter since first grade. Yes, first grade!  At first, I wondered where I’d gone wrong? How did this happen? How did the child of a bohemian renegade (my dad called me that in exasperation once…) get caught up on designer clothes, cheerleading, and the “in” crowd? I don’t really have an answer for that one yet, so I’ll have to get back to you. But the desire to be accepted, to have a tribe of one’s own- no matter how small or how large- is a desire I DO understand.

I asked my daughter if she really liked the kids in the “in” crowd? Did she really enjoy spending time with them, working with them in small groups in class, playing with them on the playground? She confessed that, for the  most part, they were kind of mean. They purposely didn’t let certain people play with them, often using silly excuses like “this game is only for 5 people, not 7” or “you don’t know the rules and there isn’t enough time to teach you.” Seriously? The bottom line is: “we don’t have time or space for you.” The message is clear: “You are unimportant.”

Then I flashed back to my 20-year high school reunion, several years ago. I didn’t attend that reunion because I refused to buy into the social elitism of the popular kids in my high school class. The reunion was held in the same back yard that all the exclusive parties were held in during high school- the same back yard I had never been popular enough to be invited to as a teen. The back yard that 95-98% of our graduating class had never been invited to as teens!  Why would I voluntarily go there now? I would much rather spend my time (and my travel budget) going somewhere to celebrate the people I love and respect, who are popular with ME for the right reasons!

By the end of the evening (and after a fabulous serving of frozen yogurt with 6 toppings), my daughter agreed that it really didn’t matter if she was popular with the “in” crowd at school after all. She would rather have friendships based on mutual respect and trust, and genuine affection than those based on wearing the right clothes, listening to the right music, and sitting at the right table in a grubby lunchroom.

So, dear readers, now about you: how do you handle the pressure to fit in with the “in” crowd? Are you part of it? Is there another way to “fit?” I look forward to hearing your ideas in the comments below.