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Teen Talk: The Collective Continued

Updated on July 26, 2011

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

The Teen Collective

In an earlier article I introduced the idea of the Teen Collective; the invisible web that ensnares and motivates teen group behavior. Many have spoken of the influence and importance of peers and the effect known as peer pressure, but the teen collective goes further, and deeper, into the teenage psyche.

The adults on the fringes of TeenWorld; parents, coaches and teachers for the most part, discover the influence of the Teen Collective through the gradual attrition of their influence on the children. Sometimes subtle, sometimes dramatic, the awareness that what you say, what you want, is being resisted.

It can be a great surprise when your formerly compliant child goes through an apparent character change. We understand the need for them to develop their independence, but we are often caught out over the choice of where they chose to make their stand.

The traditional battles embrace how late to stay up, or stay out, completion of homework or household chores, and of course, choice of friends, along with, clothing or hairstyles, or of more concern, food choices.

Some of this is internally driven, a need to assert individual choice, but it is made way more complex in that the model is coming from the Teen Collective.

There is a fear, never to be underestimated, of breaking the unwritten rules of the collective. Of making a mistake, of being found wanting in the eyes of the "others".

It is absolutely mind boggling, this juxtaposition of striving for individuality and the absolute submission to the peer group. Strong, independent, and confident kids, will defer decisions as to whether they like something or not, until approved by the group, even quite minor decisions.

Often it appears from outside that one person, or a small group, are the tastemakers in the collective, but closer examination reveals that they are as bound by the rules as anyone.

The collective decides, usually in a backhanded way, what is OK. This extends from how you wear your hair, what brand clothes are OK, and how they should be worn. I say backhanded, because, by paying attention to what is being ridiculed, in a process of elimination, you figure out what is acceptable.

This extends to every conceivable part of your teen's life, with very few exceptions, and is strictly (self) enforced. Adult rules and sanctions pale into insignificance when compared to the possibility of being on the outs.

This behavior is so natural, so normal, to the teens; they have a hard time explaining it to us. They expect us to not get it. We are not in their tribe. Being excluded from it would have no impact on us. However it is seen as life and death to the teen.

A newer phenomenon is that the power and influence of the collective has grown exponentially with the growth of social media. This is no longer a six hours while you are at school thing; it is twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week now. There is no escape.

Easy to see why teen suicides are increasing, right?

So, what can we, the adults do, to help our wards through this intense passage?

The first thing is to understand the influence of peers and not minimize it. Know that your child is between a rock and a hard place and try not to make it harder.

Second, it is crucial that the teen feels that they have an adult they can confide in. A trusted adult should be their anchor in the stormy seas. Parents are often a little too close, teachers and coaches too often in a position of judging, so the extended family is often the best choice. Aunts and uncles, especially if they are perceived as "cool", can be invaluable, grandparents too, especially if they are good listeners, but don't discount your adult friends or neighbors.

In my previous role as a principal, I would listen and respond to any student if they either came to see me, or, more commonly, emailed me. I was less directly involved in their day-to-day schooling than their teachers, and for many, they had known me since they were three or four years old, so I was a trusted, stable entity.

I listened to, and read, a great deal of stuff I personally could have happily done without, but there were several instances where I was able to get appropriate assistance in place before things got too serious - cutting, suicide, and eating disorders for example.

Three would be to provide the safe place to hang. I heard from a few readers last week that had made their home the place for the kids to hang out in. My wife and I did the same, and letting the football team camp in your living room is not exactly easy, and the three times a week trips to Costco, not exactly cheap. In hindsight, well worth it, we knew our son's friends, they felt comfortable sharing with us, and the mutual respect earned and learned, was invaluable. An unexpected side benefit is that, now, these young men and women are making their way in a host of occupations and professions, and have been able to be very helpful to us.

The fourth component would be stability. Sure you say the same thing over and over, but your predictability, no matter what the eye-roll says, is another important fixed point. It is vital that teens hear that you love them, that you care, that they matter, because the collective gives them the opposite message. If they expect you to go nuts over their grades, go nuts over their grade. They'll tell their compatriots that you don't care, but in their hearts they know you do.

These teen years are a terrible time to move homes or schools. Avoid it if you possibly can. It is a sad fact of modern life that this is a time when many men bail from their family obligations, so too many women face this battle alone. In making their girlfriends happy, many men are practically guaranteeing the unhappiness of their children. Gents, your relationship with your children will bear the stain forever. A plea to look at the bigger picture, I know, but....

Raising teens needs to be a team effort. Remember, the challenge is not only your child, but also the influence and impact of the collective.


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    • ChrisLincoln profile image

      ChrisLincoln 7 years ago from Orange (or Lemon...) County, California


      I don't think it matters, I'm just happy you are reading my hubs. When I have enough material I do hope to publish.


    • profile image

      TeenDad 7 years ago

      I probably should have read the first one first.

      I wish this was a book, have you written one?

    • ChrisLincoln profile image

      ChrisLincoln 7 years ago from Orange (or Lemon...) County, California


      Thank you very much.

      Being removed from the "putting out fires" mode has allowed me to reflect more - something we always want to do in education - and I'm still learning from all those years of experiences with the little people...


    • mysterylady 89 profile image

      mysterylady 89 7 years ago from Florida

      Before I read this hub, I had not thought about what a huge impact social netorking mus be making on the teen "Collective." Frightening thought!

      I do like the way you write!

    • ChrisLincoln profile image

      ChrisLincoln 7 years ago from Orange (or Lemon...) County, California


      Oh that's an image that has impacted my afternoon tea...

      It seems so sad that kids have to inherit their parent's genes...


    • sueroy333 profile image

      Susan Mills 7 years ago from Indiana

      Chris- I don't think I will pass your suggestion on to Chelsea, knowing her I'd end up in the front window modeling adult diapers!

    • ChrisLincoln profile image

      ChrisLincoln 7 years ago from Orange (or Lemon...) County, California


      Of course I have big smile on my face as a) I had boys, and b) they are 29 and 30, yes, I'm through the tunnel...

    • jrsearam profile image

      jrsearam 7 years ago from San Juan, PR

      Your words give me strength. They are an excellent reminder that I am not alone! Thanks again.....JR

    • ChrisLincoln profile image

      ChrisLincoln 7 years ago from Orange (or Lemon...) County, California


      Knowing where you are on your journey with your family, I believe you are in the best position possible to ride those inevitable roller coaster days, though I do not envy you if they pair up, make the puppy dog eyes and do the "Daddy, pleeease..." thing!

      Are you strong enough?


    • ChrisLincoln profile image

      ChrisLincoln 7 years ago from Orange (or Lemon...) County, California


      It is so cool to experience this. One of our son's good friends from high school is an escrow officer, she has been an invaluable help to us, and there are others. Great kids who are now just the neatest adults. We are so glad that we know them.

      My wife and I missed them when they went to college, they bought a lot of life into our home, so the adult reconnection is a special blessing.

      Tell Chelsea it might be a waste to put you in the attic, she could put you in the front window of your store modelling the clothing for the discerning older clientelle...


    • ChrisLincoln profile image

      ChrisLincoln 7 years ago from Orange (or Lemon...) County, California


      Thanks for reading and your wonderful positive responses. I'm still in touch with many of my "kids", most are in college and high school now, which accounts for over 200 of my facebook friends. I'm proud that I could be that adult for them.


    • ChrisLincoln profile image

      ChrisLincoln 7 years ago from Orange (or Lemon...) County, California


      Your point about offering advice on request is an excellent one, and no matter what your training or background it is always harder to deal with things within your family.

      I have recieved a few emails from people who would rather not leave comments, but want to share their particular issues, or ask specific questions so I feel that I am getting through to a few families, which is truly wonderful.

      Thanks, as always, for reading and commenting - genuinely appreciated.


    • jrsearam profile image

      jrsearam 7 years ago from San Juan, PR

      Your words ring so true. Being the same type of father that you appear to be, I agree 100 percent with your appreciation of the collective factor. It's importance cannot be overstated. Thanks again for your insights, JR

    • sueroy333 profile image

      Susan Mills 7 years ago from Indiana

      I have never considered the "side benefit" of having your kid's friends over. It's so true that they may one day be in a position to help.. or hurt you.

      I'm hoping my kid's friends influence her to put me in a good nursing home when the time comes, instead of her current plan.. the attic.

      Excellent advice. I really do enjoy your serious hubs as well as your funny ones.

      Serious=good. Funny=good. Serious/good+funny/good= writer... good!!

    • prairieprincess profile image

      Sharilee Swaity 7 years ago from Canada

      Chris, this is excellent, and so true. Friends are everything at this age. That's good that the students trusted you as someone that had always been there. It's a very tough age. Great hub, as always!!

    • attemptedhumour profile image

      attemptedhumour 7 years ago from Australia

      Hi Chris, we had two related issues with one of our daughters that took several months to smooth over. Most of us ordinary people are open to these sudden events and handle them head on the best way we can at the time. It is difficult not to want to intervene, but i have learnt to offer advice on request and to be available when needed. My wife is a social worker with years of experience in all sorts of challenging areas, but we still could have handled these two issues much better than we did. Your words are wise, but unfortunately your message may not find the people who could most benefit from it. Cheers mate.


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