I remember the intense desire to get the attention of a boy that I liked when I was 12 or 13. It wasn’t a comfortable feeling since I was chronically nervous that I would screw it up or that he would see something about me that was not pleasing to him.
Impressing our peer group or getting noticed by those we are crushed out on is something most of us experience in life. Now that I’m older, and pleasantly resigned to the truth of who I am, I aim to impress but do so with a full dose of me, and nothing less. I’m less sensitive to the fact that the real me won’t work for everyone. I know there are loads of people who will dig what I’ve got to offer.
When we’re young though, our world – even with twitter and the like – is smaller, and peer influence is stronger. Like me at 12, some kids work really hard, all the time, to get noticed. Some kids present themselves and do things that seem antithetical to their true selves. Maybe there is a way to help kids navigate this urge to impress without giving up important parts of themselves.
I’m going to use the word ‘dating’ loosely since I’m not sure how well it resonates for young people today. It wasn’t a word I used as a teenager – I mostly hung out with groups of friends and even one-on-one time with a person wasn’t called ‘a date’. Still, I’m talking about the times when we’re making an impression, seeking attention, looking for connection.
I know there aren’t a lot of 12 year olds with jobs but what if we can find some parallels between first dates and going to a job interview? I think most young people can appreciate that a great job is one that a) draws on our passions and b) uses and develops our skills, abilities and interests. Kick ass jobs are only kick ass when these conditions are met. Loads of money is nice, prestige and influence might be sought by some, but without passion and skill, it can be a good job but not a great job. And, wherever possible, why not pursue a great job?
Same is true for dating. Why not hang out with someone great? Someone who sparks your passion and appreciates all that you have to offer? A job interview is a chance to ask: Do I want to work here? With these people? Will I learn? Grow? Expand my horizons? A first date provides an opportunity to ask the exact same questions.
I know it’s intense – both getting ‘the date’ and securing employment - but at the end of the day we need the right date and the right job. Once you have a foot in the door, it’s all about determining whether the connection will meet your needs.
- Understand that during adolescence our kids will explore and experiment with how they present themselves to the world That’s not a bad thing. In fact, it will help them find their authentic selves.
- Give some perspective without judgement. Gently remind young people that doing something for someone else that doesn’t work (or feel good) for them, isn’t sustainable in the long run. Recent research out of the University of Toronto validates the idea that engaging in sex to please someone else, leaves people with lower levels of relationship and sexual satisfaction.
- Provide examples of what healthy relationships look like – honest, communicative, mutually respectful, trusting, joyful. Show your kid this fabulous relationship graph created by Justin of Bish Training in the U.K. and talk about its various components.
- Support kids to trust their gut – to feel the niggle and distinguish between having the hots for someone and embarking on actions that don’t feel quite right.
- Selflessness has its place but even Mother Teresa got something (profound) out of giving. Help kids recognize the value of getting what they need.
- Model thoughtful evaluation of actions that have repercussions. It’s helpful for our kids to see our thought processes and understand that many decisions require substantial deliberation to determine the best course of action.
- Encourage them to reflect on their actions so that on the next first date they ask different questions and better seek to fulfill their needs.