Sometimes we worry more about our children’s popularity than they do. How many friends do they have, are they invited to the cool kids’ birthday parties, and are they being left out of games or gatherings? We want our children to be happy and enjoy having lots of good friends.
Most friendships don’t last long when we are young but the effects of popularity or lack of it can last a lifetime. Popular children and teens have more opportunities which in turn boosts their popularity even more. When children are popular because they make others feel included and welcomed it leads to good outcomes. However, if they are popular because they are seen to be cool, strong or important then these children are more likely to develop problems as adults. They fail to develop important skills and may be more likely to experience depression, anxiety, relationship difficulties and even addiction.
If you are worried about your child’s popularity then move the focus away from status and help them develop characteristics of someone who is a good friend to others. Encourage your children to target real, quality friends rather than ones who are popular because they have the right looks or contacts.
If your child is unhappy with their place in the pecking order, acknowledge their desire for popularity, offer love and try and understand why it matters to them. If they want to be popular to be included in a particular group, discuss what makes the group attractive to them and how it is seen by others. Remind them of what they may lose if they sacrificed existing friendships or character traits to belong to that group.
It is difficult when a child wants to be popular and there are no easy answers. Yes, you can point out that the cool kid may just be covering up insecurities by acting the life of the party and that even popular children feel lonely and insecure but it probably won’t help a great deal.
Being popular is not something that can be controlled so direct the discussion with your child to what they can control. It continually amazes me how many of life hacks and parenting tips like these are straight from the Bible. What we read about online in 2018 was recorded more than two thousand years ago and is still true today. Here are just three of them:
- Your child can control how they treat others. For example, practicing kindness to others is something that is in everyone’s power. Being kind not only helps the person practicing kindness to develop good character, it helps the person he or she is being kind to feel cared for and appreciated. Ephesians 4:32 “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you.”
- Encourage your child to be true to themselves and their values. The movie Grease is actually a terrible example of someone compromising values to be cool and ‘get the guy’. The happy ever after ending is probably just as likely as the final scene where the car flies into the sky! Talk to your child about what they value, what drives them and encourage them to embrace their passions. They will become more confident, self-aware and less anxious as a result. Romans 12:2 “Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”
- Teach your children to be interested in other people. Home and family is where they can brag about their grades and accomplishments but it is important to stay humble in other situations. Teach your children to consider others more important than themselves; to ask interested questions of others and care about the answers. As your child focuses on others their own anxieties and insecurities will lessen. Help them focus on connecting instead of impressing. Philippians 2:3 “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.
Childhood friendships and popularity can be fleeting but developing good character and values will last a lifetime.
Mike Curtis, Principal