By Erica Rood, M.A. Ed.
When you are a teen, popularity matters… a lot.
Teens derive a great deal of self-worth from their friends. Because the teen years are a time of huge transition and change, teens rely on their friends for validation, acceptance, and camaraderie. Thus, being “popular” takes on a high degree of importance. In fact, many teens believe being popular equals being happy.
As a parent, you might feel anxious, or even angry, if your daughter is not part of a group, if she is left out, or stays home on Saturday night. Your parental instinct may drive you to do something. But what can you? Gone are the days when you schedule play-dates. You are beyond your role as parent-as-administrator, and now need to take on the role as parent-coach, guiding and supporting your teen to understand and manage the delicate boundary between having friends and being popular.
Affirm your teen’s strengths and values.
Despite their natural tendency to test the boundaries and resist parental influence, teens have a deep desire and need to receive affirmations from the adults in their lives. This means looking beyond their accomplishments and praising them for who they are, rather than what they do. When your teen receives respectful acknowledgements, her sense of self strengthens and she will be less inclined to rely on her friends for validation.
Talk to your teen about the difference between popularity and friendship.
Shed light on the misconception that being popular means being happy. Start a conversation about what it means to be authentic. Then, ask your teen: What does it mean to be a friend? What do you value in a friendship? What are the qualities of a true friend? Challenge your teen to consider the problems with popularity. Very often being popular requires teens to behave in a certain way, rather than exploring and sharing their authentic self. Maintaining a popular status can lead to stress, anxiety, and pressure. Conversations such as these will help broaden your teen’s perspective and understanding of popularity and genuine friendship.
Allow them to feel.
Acknowledge what your teen is going through. Whether she is striving to fit in with the popular crowd, feeling left out, or somewhere in between, her feelings are real. Validate her feelings of disappointment, sadness, anger, or loneliness. Let her know that you are there for her and ready to listen when she is ready to talk. When she’s ready to talk, ask her open-ended questions that help her uncover solutions and best next-steps. In doing so, you will demonstrate your understanding, encourage her social problem-solving skills, and ultimately help her feel less alone.