Peer Culture

Ben // 1/27/2008

Parents who homeschool never grow tired of recommending good reading material to their children. Of course I am no longer homeschooling, but my mother still tells me about what she is reading. That must be one of the pleasures of being a homeschooling parent--I mean, being able to share ideas with your children always.

Below I am typing something my mom photocopied for me to read. It's from a book called Hold On to Your Kids. The book does not promote homeschooling; neither does it attack our nation's system of schools. Its primary aim is to understand what happens to children and parents who, for whatever reason, do not form a real connection to each other and instead turn to their peers for fulfillment. Here it is:

Walking through the halls of my son's high school during lunch hour recently, I was struck by how similar it felt to being in the halls and lunchrooms of the juvenile prisons in which I used to work. The posturing, the gestures, the tone, the words, and the interaction among peers I witnessed in this teenage throng all bespoke an eerie invulnerability. These kids seemed incapable of being hurt. Their demeanor bespoke a confidence, even bravado that seemed unassailable but shallow at the same time.

The ultimate ethic in the peer culture is "cool"--the complete absence of emotional openness. The most esteemed among the peer group affect a disconcertingly unruffled appearance, exhibit little or no fear, seem to be immune to shame, and are given to muttering things like "doesn't matter," "don't care," and "whatever."

The reality is quite different. Humans are the most vulnerable--from the Latin vulnerare, to wound--of all creatures. We are not only vulnerable physically, but psychologically as well. What, then, accounts for the discrepancy? How can young humans who are in fact so vulnerable appear so opposite? Is their toughness, their "cool" demeanor, an act or is it for real? Is it a mask that can be doffed when they get to safety or is it the true face of peer orientation?

When I first encountered this subculture of adolescent invulnerability, I assumed it was an act. The human psyche can develop powerful defenses against a conscious sense of vulnerability, defenses that become ingrained in the emotional circuitry of the brain. I preferred to think that these children, if given the chance, would remove their armor and reveal their softer, more genuinely human side. Occasionally this expectation proved correct, but more often than not I discovered the invulnerability of adolescents was no act, no pretense. Many of these children did not have hurt feelings, they felt no pain. That is not to say that they were incapable of being wounded, but as far as their consciously experienced feelings were concerned, there was no mask to take off.

Children able to experience emotions of sadness, fear, loss, and rejection will often hide such feelings from their peers to avoid exposing themselves to ridicule and attack. Invulnerability is a camouflage they adopt to blend in with the crowd but will quickly remove in the company of those with whom they have the safety to be their true selves. These are not the kids I am most concerned about, although I certainly do have a concern about the impact an atmosphere of invulnerability will have on their learning and development. In such an environment genuine curiosity cannot thrive, questions cannot be freely asked, naive enthusiasm for learning cannot be expressed. Risks are not taken in such an environment, nor can passion for life and creativity find their outlets.

The kids most deeply affected and at greatest risk for harm are the ones who aspire to be tough and invulnerable, not just in school but in general. These children cannot don and doff the armor as needed. Defense is not something they do, it is who they are. This emotional hardening is most obvious in delinquents and gang members and street kids, but is also a significant dynamic in the common everyday variety of peer orientation that exists in the typical American home.

Comments

Oh! Just so much to say!

Yeah, what she said!...No, really, I know exactly what she's talking about, but there are some things that puzzle me.

Some kids are just naturally that way...tough and don't show emotion I mean. I personally talk to my mom about almost everything, but my sister, hides all her emotions and thoughts, from everyone, not just our parents. My friend, you would think if she had something on her mind she would just say it, because that's the way she is, but she doesn't say it, and laughs it away instead. Even though she is homeschooled and doesn't have the pressures of other teens and teachers, she is still that way.

The whole thing with the hardened children is strange, really, because all the Disney channel and Nickolodeon shows are like mini soap operas, with emotion uzzing out of them.

Yeah, that (what's said in the book) all makes children hard and they don't care about anything. This will influence the next generation because our politics won't matter to anyone. People will do whatever they want and won't stand up for what is right. I can't stand it when I hear kids say "doesn't matter" "don't care" and "whatever", that really makes me angry because it's true, they don't care.

Actually a lot of adults are like that too; if they weren't, kids wouldn't be either.

This bothers me personally because I care so much about every thing....to a fault. every thing that happens (alright, not everything)I stress out about. I think that if other people don't care, that I should care for them and teach them to care.

Ahhhhh...Okay, let me get my breath after my monologue that lasted to the very ends of the earth. Wheeeee....

Back to the subject.... What was the subject?......
Oh yeah, I remember. What I was going to say, before I so rudely inturupted myself, was that this is why writing is so important......how did I get to writing?........I was talking about kids... Oh well, you get my (general) point.

"A wizard is never late, nor is he early; he arrives presicely when he means to." Gandalf

The Brit | Wed, 02/04/2009

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