When I think back to my twelfth summer, I think about how I felt – shy, and unsure of myself. I had just finished 6th grade and my best friend, Patricia, was spending the summer with her mother’s family in Ireland. Our separation was a strategic play by her parents – she and I were both quiet girls who were content in our bubble of pop music, Judy Blume books, and episodes of the TV show Dallas. Her parents wanted her to have a bigger social circle and thought that splitting us up for a summer would do both of us some good. I suppose it did, although I didn’t realize it at the time – while I was fine with my books, babysitting, and AM radio for a couple of weeks, I quickly realized that if I wanted to have any kind of social interaction with kids my age, I would have to hop on my bike and seek out the other kids in the neighborhood myself. That summer opened a whole new world to me, but also introduced some challenges that included navigating boys (icky but interesting), the intricate social structure of neighborhood kids (bullies and all!), and trying to figure out who I was in the process.
My son is now at the same age as I was then. He’s not particularly interested in girls (or so he claims) and he doesn’t have one “best-friend,” rather a regular group of boys that he plays baseball/basketball/video games with on any given day. But he is still faced with the inevitable challenge of figuring out who he is and where he fits into the social hierarchy – and, more important, how much of “himself” he’s willing to give up, if any, to fit in.
I don’t know if it’s his generation, but they seem much less concerned with fitting in than previous generations – it’s ok to be a bit quirky or a little different – which, I think, is a good thing. It seems as though kids are a bit more tolerant than in the past. Maybe that’s because they’ve been educated on the effects of bullying since kindergarten, or maybe because society as a whole – at least in the Northeast – are more tolerant of individualism. Whatever the case, I’m thrilled that’s the case. No one ever became happier because they pretended to be someone they’re not. In my opinion, the key to happiness lies in understanding yourself and allowing yourself to be loved for who you are.
While he’s still trying to figure all that stuff out-and has quite a bit of growing to do, the one wish that I have for him is that he doesn’t give up too much of himself to appease his friends. I hope he stays true to himself, because he’s pretty terrific just the way he is.