Teen Talk: The Teen Collective, Part One

Teen Talk - Live

Chris is taking “Teen Talk” on the road. If you are a member of a parent group or responsible for finding engaging speakers for student or youth groups, please contact Chris at www.chrislincoln-speaker.com

The Teen Collective

When teens gather, anthropologically and sociologically speaking, they become very interesting. There is a group dynamic that is somehow comforting for the teen and often puzzling, if not intimidating, for the adult onlooker.

Most teens enjoy the company of like-minded individuals, but not all. Some teens avoid the collective when they can, either positively, by preferring their own company, or the company of another age group. Or negatively, feeling they are ostracized and do not belong. Being able to spot the difference is very important.

I would estimate that some 90 percent of teens spend most of their time engaged in the collective. The remaining ten percent are split into two distinct and polar opposite groups. There are some, rare mind you, teens who love being with significantly younger or older people than their peer group, by choice. Not by default, not because they do not feel like they belong with their peers, but because they made a considered decision.

A larger number interact with non-peers because is it either a safe haven, or an alternative to being ostracized. They see themselves as misfits, or outsiders, and are looking for approval and inclusion. Most of the time this is not an issue, and it can help develop a better self-image if they are successful with their chosen group.

However not relating to ones peers can be problematical. Teen world is very closed and exclusive to very specific age groups, but it is also the place where social interaction and social development is practiced. It is not something that can effectively be sidestepped or ignored, as it fosters almost permanent social exclusion later on.

For years I watched the collective in action as an outsider (teacher and parent) with very poor recall of my own experiences of that time. I would try to manage it in my classroom so that it did not derail my objectives, but it was as a principal that I recognized what a big deal it was for the students.

My involvement was usually of two types. The first, dealing with the interpersonal relationships of the girls, was like a black hole. It sucked in time and emotion and never gave anything back. I would do the male thing, trying to draw a line under the present incident and find a way to move on. It failed because I believe that only works for those who think episodically, or in discrete events, i.e. men.

For the girls, no event was independent, there was a before, there is now, and there will be an after. This historical or histo-linear way of thinking, more typical of women and girls, requires an entirely different mindset. A holistic solution, as it were, rather than specific solutions.

I learned to adjust my role to mentoring and guiding, trying to steer all the participants in a mutually agreed upon, positive direction. I never felt like I actually succeeded, but former students say that in fact, I did. I call it being the sheepdog, rounding up the skittish and unsure individuals and moving them towards the pen, without frightening or scattering them. Delicate work, and not for the faint of heart!

My other involvement was with the boys and split into two distinct categories. Discipline and counseling. And never mix the two!

Discipline with boys was easy for the most part. They would start off lying or minimizing their role in whatever idiocy they had tumbled into. Eventually a truth that had a fair resemblance to reality would out, the boys would recognize their error, and then dutifully handle any sanctions. There were only minor dramas, and only the specific acts of stupidity changed.

The counseling component was more complex and much more subtle. I would find boys (and a select few girls) with a pattern of behavior that constantly bought them to my attention. The events in and of themselves were almost matterless, because the important component was hidden. In fact, there was always an underlying cause. Often these boys had a very messed up sense of self worth. They either felt very inferior or superior, either way; they did not feel like they fit in with the peer group. Sometimes the collective rejected them, but more often than not, they were the ones who rejected the collective. This was a particular issue with highly intelligent boys, who found the general stupidity and immaturity of their peers intolerable.

It was in looking into this phenomenon that I recognized the power of the teen collective. It has been called peer-pressure, but it is so much more than that. The collective determines common speech, what is in or out, who is cool or not, all fashion choices, all media choices (music, TV, movies, texting format, tweeting, skyping, etc) and all without a physical manual.

One year I had a group who could not stop emailing pictures of their open mouths to each other, another year every sentence was peppered with "frigging", another year they all called each other zoobs. Saggy pants were replaced by skinny jeans almost overnight and somehow the collective knew.

Each individual year-group seemed to have identifiable attributes that they all knew and practiced, and woe betide any unfortunate outsider who tried to copy their tribal rules and rituals. Adults do this too; witness hazing or the inclusion rituals of Masons or Elks, but at no point in our lives is it as intense as in those middle school years. (The military may disagree.)

These unwritten “rules”, the expectational norms of the peer group are very powerful. They drive decision-making at a very fundamental level, and if competing with your personal, or family, rules and expectations, will most likely trump them in the mind of the teen.

In a way that is very real to the teen, individual will is given over to the collective. The adult fear here is that the collective makes bad choices, even dangerous choices.

In my experience, that is, thankfully, rare. I have found that with careful monitoring and some subtle nudges the collective can be steered away from the ever-present brink.

To be continued…

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Comments 18 comments

pjwrites 5 years ago from Florida

Sounds like you really know kids, Chris.

Our house was always the hang-out, from the time the kids were about eight y-o, until they started driving. After they all got cars, the whole world opened up, so we didn't get to interact with them much after that.

They are experiencing and trying things out for the first time, with varying degrees of success, but for the most part, my kids and their friends were fun, enthusiastic, friendly, and seemed to find great comfort just in being together.

Things have changed now, as they are all in college or just starting their careers, and they all now have jobs, but the core group is still together and thriving in the support base they created. Good for them.


ChrisLincoln profile image

ChrisLincoln 5 years ago from Orange (or Lemon...) County, California Author

pj,

As you'll find in part two, hosting the collective is exactly what I would propose. Sure you have to go to Costco three times a week and there is a persistant mess, but...

My guys are now extrordinary young men, post college and living good lives, would not have missed the crazy years for anything (Wouldn't want to go back though!)

Thanks for reading my serious side, I figure three parts humor, one part meaningful is a pretty good recipe!

C


attemptedhumour profile image

attemptedhumour 5 years ago from Australia

Hi Chris, those teenage years are difficult for most people. We got to know a lot of our daughter's friends by hosting their friends. My wife and I go away every Halloween so that our daughters can hold a party at our place. It gets more decorative each year but we've never had any problems or damage to come back to. I think it is important to interact with their friends and make them welcome. I'm glad i got past those embarrassing teen years relatively unscathed and wouldn't want another try. Cheers mate.


ChrisLincoln profile image

ChrisLincoln 5 years ago from Orange (or Lemon...) County, California Author

AttHum,

Thanks for your comment. Sounds like you managed to walk that fine line like a pro; enough freedom, with enough responsibilty, and the end result, a well balanced adult.

You notice no one has suggested these were their favorite times!

C


sueroy333 profile image

sueroy333 5 years ago from Indiana

You must have been one awesome principal! You must also have had a stash of Tylenol in your desk at all times!

I feel very lucky that my kid is oblivious to all things in the collective. We homeschool, but even in the years we didn't she used to shun the collective. She'd tell her friends, "I'm not really interested in that, it's pretty much a fad. You won't be interested in it either in a few months."

Then she'd play with another group of kids until the first group got over whatever fad they were into. She made lots of friends with varied interests. Of course, that was the pre-teen years.

Middle school seems like a very, very scary place to live.

I'm impressed that you made it out alive. It's a good thing you have such a developed sense of humor!

Interesting, informative, and all around awesome. I'm looking forward to part two!!


ChrisLincoln profile image

ChrisLincoln 5 years ago from Orange (or Lemon...) County, California Author

Sue,

You understand how much I like to have kids like Chelsea around, don't you. These "independents" could change the whole atmosphere of a year, I remember these key girls with fondness and gratitude. They quite literally made everyone's life better.

Thanks for reading and managing to stay serious for six paragraphs :)

C


sueroy333 profile image

sueroy333 5 years ago from Indiana

Chris- it was difficult. I had to eat English-Indian food so I wouldn't break out into spontaneous fits of humor. I thank you for that. :)


ChrisLincoln profile image

ChrisLincoln 5 years ago from Orange (or Lemon...) County, California Author

Sue,

So proud...


jrsearam profile image

jrsearam 5 years ago from San Juan, PR

I'm a little freaked out by "the collective", kinda sounds like the Borg. I have to agree with you. My newly "teened" twins do seem to be tuned in to some central control hub of some sort whereby concerted action appears to initiate, communication seems to be instantaneous and unexplainable habits and customs are acquired. Still, at least for now, my kids particular collective seems to nurture and benefit it's members. Regardless, I am always watching and listening, lest the collective begins to more closely resemble the actual Borg. Thanks for the insight Mr. Lincoln


ChrisLincoln profile image

ChrisLincoln 5 years ago from Orange (or Lemon...) County, California Author

jrsearam,

Your twins are in a unique position to influence those around them, I have seen this often with multiples, and it has always been a wonderfully positive thing.

I think multiples master the joint thinking thing from an early age and thus are absolute naturals when dealing with the middle school years.

You are wise to watch closely, but I would not be suprised if you see nothing but things that make you proud.

The Borg was in my mind as I wrote these, but I'm pretty sure most teens arn't bent on domination of the actual universe, just their "universe". And, resistance is not, actually, futile...

Engage...

C


jrsearam profile image

jrsearam 5 years ago from San Juan, PR

It's very encouraging to read what you write about twins and As a matter of fact they do influence their group a great deal. It does make me proud to watch. Thanks for the additional wisdom. JR

PS Resistance is definitely not futile....totally agree....; )))


mysterylady 89 profile image

mysterylady 89 5 years ago from Florida

Aha, I see you have a serious side! I agree with your thesis as I've been there. Even in high school the "collective" is present.

I am off to read Part Two.


ChrisLincoln profile image

ChrisLincoln 5 years ago from Orange (or Lemon...) County, California Author

mysterylady,

Serious-ish, I figure a ratio of three to one, humor to real world will keep me sane. It's interesting to see how many of the humor readers cross over to this side (quite a few) but how few go from serious hubs to humor hubs.

C


mysterylady 89 profile image

mysterylady 89 5 years ago from Florida

Chris, although I did not plan it, I am doing something similar. My rants about the censorships of Mark Twain and Saul Bellow are somewhat serious, as is the hub about Andrew, but "Revenge of a Male Chauvinist" and "Harassing Administrators" are, I hope, humorous.

I often think humor is a result of objectivity. Being serious is more subjective.


ChrisLincoln profile image

ChrisLincoln 5 years ago from Orange (or Lemon...) County, California Author

mysterylady,

Not all administrators are bad evil bastards. Some of us are unemployed, I mean, aspiring writers...

C


mysterylady 89 profile image

mysterylady 89 5 years ago from Florida

"Some of us are unemployed, I mean, aspiring writers." I love it! I liked most of my administrators. Of course, some were a different story. My first principal, right after I had been teaching the correct spelling and pronunciation of "athlete," explaining that there was no "a" between the "h" and the "l," announced, "Would all ath-a-letes report to the gym!"

I really wish you would read my "Harassing Administrators" hub. I would love to know how you would have handled a devil like me.


ChrisLincoln profile image

ChrisLincoln 5 years ago from Orange (or Lemon...) County, California Author

Mysterylady,

It's on my to do list for tomorrow - took a day off to celebrate my mother-in-laws 93rd birthday.

C


TeenDad 5 years ago

The order didn't matter. I like the StarTrek references.

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