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Peer Groups and Communication

It is said that recognising a personal problem is the first step in solving it. If you don't recognise the problem or wish to recognise it, then you will never solve the issue. It comes down to awareness and personal honesty. If either or both of two people are not completely honest with themselves, or cannot treat the other as they would like to be treated, then they will have a mediocre friendship at best or at worse cannot be friends whatsoever. There are many married couples who don't communicate properly or bother to find out how the other person wants to be treated or don't make the effort enough to treat the person how they want to be treated...you might get an occasional effort, and then lay off and carry on as normal.

One is responsible for how one feels; By assigning meanings to things that happen that may not necessarily have any particular meaning, or that might have positive and negative significance; And by not focussing on something that makes us feel bad; By interrupting that focus, and changing it to something that makes us feel good. But ultimately, if certain people are negative overall, then we should avoid them! And if certain people make us feel bad repeatedly, then we should avoid them! If we surround ourselves with positive people, and people who make us feel good, role models, then we feel much better about ourselves and are able to give more to others. People have an unconscious (or conscious) tendency to want everyone else to be on their level, and like what they like, if it means pulling them up or dragging them down to their level. So if someone is more positive than you, the natural tendency is for you to try to give them negative beliefs and try to make them the same as you, so your belief system is not challenged. Or, conversely, you may be uplifted by them doing the same back to you and give you positive beliefs and making you feel good about yourself. The equilibrium is restored one way or another. If we surround ourselves with neggos and people who make us feel miserable, then we would be masochistic or just plain stupid! So take a look at the people you interact with. If we are related to neggos, then we have to deal with it and come up with ways and strategies of not getting stressed or upset by them. You can choose your friends and partner, but you can't choose your family! We must examine our relationships and objectively review them, and if necessary do something about them.

In most cases young children have no problems finding a peer group they like and whom they can feel relaxed and have fun with. It is usually only when one gets to teenager age around 12 or so, when things start to go wrong! Children feel they have to act like adults, and be totally cool all the time, rather than just having fun, and frequently start treating each other much worse. They are often feeling embarrassed about their changing bodies and puberty, and new found sexuality which they have to try to come to terms with, but also try to project the right image and identity to their peer group about their sexuality and sense of adulthood. Bullying often gets much worse too. Differences between children become much more apparent. The crowd you choose in your teens is critically important as it determines how you interact with people for many years afterwards. All too often, teenagers get in with the wrong crowd. They don't really know themselves, so they have no idea what sort of crowd they should be hanging around with, and usually pick the first one that readily accepts them/gives them the least hassle. The problem with this is that instead of being independent minded, children often end up with a set of friends at school who are a mixed bag. Some may be very nice, but others may be really selfish and quite nasty. If a child shows a glimmer of honesty or softness, then they are ridiculed. If you try to be too nice to others at school, try to be a nice guy, then other children will try to take advantage of you. It is exactly the same in adult life! The only way to get respect is to show where the boundaries are, so people know they cannot push you past them, then once there is an understanding and respect, then you can actually have the relationship you wanted in the first place (once all the punching/standing up for yourself transitional phase is out of the way).

Picking the first person that comes along to be your friend, without knowing what personal characteristics you like in a friend, is usually a bad idea. It works with younger children more as they have less baggage, but with teenagers it is a disaster. It is about as successful as marrying or dating the first person who shows romantic interest in you, regardless of what you want and what you like (if you have any idea what this is). You have to be selective and fussy! You can't just go around looking for someone to love or like you, and settling for the best thing in your local area. This is plain pathetic! Much as I sympathise with your intentions, you won't do yourself any good, and you aren't showing yourself any self-respect. There are dominating and bad people out there who can spot you from 1000 yards, and will pick you up and use you, and spit you out if they've finished with you. Just looking in your immediate vicinity/local area is just not good enough! Can't you be bothered to look further afield? Or are you willing to totally compromise yourself by hanging around with some 50%ers, just because it's convenient (even if they treat you badly half the time)? Or don't you think you are that fussy? Are you willing to take second best? Maybe in that case you think you are second best, and that's all you are worth. A self-fulfilling prophecy.

With relationships, ideally one wants friends who respect and also support and encourage one to be oneself. Equally our friends would expect us to reciprocate and to respect, support and encourage them to self-actualise. It is all very well expecting the world from your chosen friends, but are you really being a friend back? It is all very well being 'nice' but do you encourage your friends in the way that you wish you were being encouraged? Often when we encouage others it realises an awareness in us that we really want that encouragement from others, and may be more motivated to seek friends or colleagues who can give us that encouragement.

Objectively speaking, many of the friends you have during primary and secondary school, you simply will never see again. So it doesn't matter what types of friends you pick, right? Wrong! The relationships you keep when you are younger although they don't have any meaning in themselves often will shape how you interact with people when you are an adult. So if you frequently are the underdog in a 'friendship', where the other person is 'friends' with you just so that he or she can push you around or use you to make himself or herself feel better about themselves, then you are likely to become an underdog and lack confidence in later life. Do you want this? It is vital that how you engage in life as a child is how you really want to engage in life throughout your adult life! This applies to sports, relationships, situations, everything. Those of you who were 'saving' it until they were adults or older, it's too late! You have an uphill struggle to gain total confidence, but it of course it's impossible! Far from it.

There are a number of somewhat harsh expressions that one should remember, that apply.

You can't polish a turd!

This means that if a friend, partner, relationship, acquaintance or peer group you spend your time with is at its root a 'turd', then no amount of glossing over it, and focussing on a few redeeming features will negate what the core is. You can't coat a turd with white chocolate and pretend it is a 'Cadbury's Snowflake' chocolate bar! It might look like one, but bite into it and you will soon realise it is not 'sweet'!

Sh*t should be flushed down the toilet

If something is bad for you or is clearly a 'turd', then don't hold on to it and get sh*t all over your hands and clothes! Cut it out of your life - 'flush it down the toilet', where it belongs. You can build your house on a solid foundation, or you can build it on sand. Worse still, you can build it on a foundation of actual excrement! And worst of all, you can start off with a foundation of excrement and actually build the house from turds - if you really want to - and you can enjoy the 'benefits' of this - all for yourself!

It's all a question of motivation. You may lack the guts and backbone when you are younger (or right now even) to choose the right crowd for you, people who respect you and you can share and have a blast with. You may think you don't mind now. But later on, you will kick yourself for having wasted your time with a bunch of selfish idiots who don't give a hoot about you. Massaging their egos for them at your expense. Putting yourself down to keep them happy so that they might like you. Do what is expected of you. They don't even notice you, unless they want something from you. They really couldn't give a [insert strong expletive. Repeat sentence with alternative expletives]. You get the general idea. The relationships you have in your youth and how you interact with your environment will determine who you are when you are as an adult. It's not that the things you do matter when you are younger, it's that they are a training ground for how you will actually be when you are older, which is hard to change in your adult life unless you use the types of psychological techniques we've mentioned on this site. For most people, by the time they've figured out what their youth was all about in terms of shaping who they are, it's been and gone and they can't change in their adult life!

When it comes to one's family, teachers or peer group, if you feel that you are lacking confidence, direction or a sense of yourself, and are not sure what to do and are looking for a source of inspiration, approval or encouragement to boost your self-esteem, don't bother looking to the same family, teachers or peer group that helped you get yourself into this emotional state for these things. You will likely fail! It may be that you surrounded yourself inadvertently with people who didn't encourage you or were good for you, but it is possible if you expressed an interest in bettering yourself that certain individuals, in certain areas, could give you some pointers - you should be able to figure out who they would be. But clearly you need some more positive role models and peers in your existence and need to look elsewhere. This is particularly true of one's family who can't see beyond their own emotional baggage or past treatment of you and will likely continue with the same type of relationship that got you to this point - don't expect any outside perspective from immediate family members.

Unfortunately, children and teenagers, in their attempts to feel like adults, show that they have autonomy and can decide for themselves and do what they want, rarely actually do anything creative or positive. Nearly always the attempts to carve out one's own life are negative self-expression and adoption of negative, destructive behaviours, which make them feel like they are in control or have power, in the short term. It is the same for binge drinking. Youth is all about discovering things, learning about relationships, learning about one's body, learning about sex, education, and preparing themselves for their future careers (optional in many cases!) Hopefully a person will have been educated properly about the benefits and dangers of drugs, and make a sensible decision to not bother taking them and not hang around with negative 'wasters' ['Negative Creep by Kurt Kobain], and engage instead in more positive activities, including different sports, creative, artistic or intellectual pursuits, to discover themselves, push themselves to the limit and really enjoy being the best they can be.

Teachers don't seem to understand that sport is there is develop children's characters, to help children conquer fear, to develop bodily co-ordination and to fully engage in an activity relative to other children, to build confidence. Sport is a metaphor for survival in nature, for war, which is a metaphor for life itself. It is all about soul, spirit, self-expression, the confidence to interact with one's environment and with others, testing the human spirit, overcoming fear and pushing oneself and one's limits. Testing one's spirit is what life is all about. Vitality, self-expression, spirit, honesty with self and confidence and belief in oneself. There is no objective purpose to sport, and this is often why children or teenagers who haven't been encouraged regard it as pointless and rather 'redneck', going against their intellect, and take no interest. However, it is the teacher's job to try to encourage such children into the games, explain strategy to them, and give them a feeling for what they should actually be doing. If one believes a sport to be intellectually demeaning, then this is all the more reason to be good at it, to challenge the mind's command over the body and to overcome one's fear etc. One then then put it down and say it's not for you. But to not even properly engage in it smells of fear and lack of self-esteem, hidden behind some layers of rationalisation and superiority. Sport is all about the mind, the physical aspect is just one expression of its meaning. All top athletes are the best because of their minds, mindset and self-belief, not because of their bodies. Quite often there is a will and a desire to participate, but because everyone else is so much better, one really has no idea what one should be doing and what finer points to start working on first.

Teacher's don't seem to think it is worth pointing out that children are 'allowed' to practice in their spare time. Teachers are often refereeing a game just to have a good time and focus on the best players who are always in key striking positions. Teachers seem to allow the worst players to be in goal or defence all the time, where they feel left out of the game and stand around doing nothing for most of the game, ignoring the action, and then are scolding everytime the other team's best players score a goal. The teachers should be doing the opposite, mixing the worst players (or least encouraged players one should say) in with the best players in attacking and defensive positions, so that the least skilled and see what the skilled are doing, and be put under pressure, and have for example an experienced defender or goalkeeper who can direct the others. But can most teachers be bothered? Are they interested? Even in private schools where parents pay exorbitant fees, the teachers still don't bother. Many teachers seem to be only there to have a good time with the children they like and forget that they have a vital role in each child's growth. If a school has three games sessions per week, one of those sessions per week could be dedicated to game training, for example. This would ensure that each pupil is put under some pressure to practice the core skills required in the game and gain confidence (e.g. passing, goal scoring, goal keeping, tackling, ball control etc), especially those pupils who don't normally get 'stuck into the action' during games and are left out. Many schools only schedule training sessions once a year if at all for the lesser skilled games. It really is no additional effort, but it would require a will for teachers and referees to actually want to help children grow as people, rather than just being 'jobs worth' and doing the minimum that is required of them.

Many parents push their children to perform well at school, get Straight A's. Some push them to succeed in sports, to be the best. Some encourage hobbies and creative interests. Some take little interest in any of these things. Ultimately, what grades you get at school is not that important. GCSEs are a stepping stone to A-Levels, assuming the child stays on at school until the age of 18. As long as your grades are fairly good, that's enough. However, getting top grades is not the issue. The issue is having a consistent attitude to learning and taking an interest in life, society and learning new skills, having the right attitude, wising up, the will to apply what one learns to the world around one, and wanting to be in a position where one can do what one really wants, which one will take with one for the rest of one's life. Being at school may be dorky, and showing a keen interest in learning may not always be cool, unless of course a given teacher makes it really fun in the class to learn that subject and exudes a real passion for the subject matter. Sometimes if one is purely focussed on the grades, one isn't focussed on why one is studying the subjects, and what happens after the exam. What career one wants to pursue, and what specialties are open to one. It is too easy to perform in the classroom, but have no belief that one can really have the perfect job one wants. One may think, 'oh, I could never do that'...but the people who are living these dreams or professions were 'human' and were probably less academically gifted than you. It is all about passion and drive. Wanting to express oneself.

Even when teachers can see that a pupil is clearly highly talented in a certain subject, can he then be bothered to take the pupil aside and talk to him about the subject and his talent and interest in it, and explain what possible career paths or applications in the real world exist in conjunction with that particular subject or discipline? Can teachers be bothered to explain how the subject they are teaching applies to adult life and society, and also what career paths or opportunities for further study are available in that field? This would surely help students become motivated and keep their passion for their favourite subjects and to retain their focus, after the exams have finished. It might sound naive, but at school I was not really aware that P.E. (Physical Exercise) classes were there to introduce pupils to different sports and exercises, rather than to be a sole source of sporting and training pursuits, and fitness, aside from sport games played 3 times a week in the afternoons. The P.E. teacher never really explained this. Perhaps it was glaringly obvious to most pupils, but clearly not all. I was under the impression that all the fit contemporaries were so just because of what they did at school, rather than because they took the initiative to take up outside interests, and put more effort into their sports and exercise at school. I therefore felt I was somewhat 'useless' as I never got good at any of the sports I was introduced to in my P.E. classes, like the other unfit and uninterested kids, reinforcing the pattern and low self-esteem further. I half expected some of the sports to be repeated more often in the gym classes. Perhaps I half realised that I could take up a sport at the school or otherwise if I wanted to, but something held me back. This is not really the sort of situation we would like to see in schools, but see more actual encouragement.

Unfortunately, children at school are often so horribly negative and fearful, and try to put up a 'front', and anything resembling interest in anything or than music or television is regarded as 'square' and peer pressure collectively acts to discourage this in many cases. I think parents should encourage their children to be free thinking and tough enough to ignore peer pressure and do their own thing, and tough enough to stand up for themselves physically and mentally (an inevitable consequence of being an individual, you get picked on and people want to fight you, but eventually will treat you with respect and reverence, once you have hit a sufficient number of aggressors). Of course this is not easy, as children depend on a peer group or close friends to feel secure. The trick is to have a close circle of friends who actually treat one with respect and encourage each other.

Some children approach school or indeed their childhood and teenage years as if it is something to simply survive, depending on their self-confidence level, rather than approaching it with a sense of adventure, to get as much out of this time as possible, to develop and explore one's character and with a sense of cool confidence. If you just aim to survive, often you are on your defensive, don't really enjoy anything as you are worried or stressed too much, and often one may be unable to act in certain areas - simply becoming an observer rather than a participant. This may result in a sense of disorientation, dissociation or aimlessness later on.

Kids and teenagers at school often ask why they are studying certain subjects as they seem boring and have no relevance to daily life or their anticipated life upon leaving school. One may notice that school children are often more knowledgeable in many areas than their respective adults. This is because if you don't use it, you lose it. Many adults only require a small subset of skills in daily life, from working, filing and paying bills, looking after children, looking after one's finances, going out, buying semi-fashionable clothes, going shopping, heating up convenience foods, redecorating your house, buying furniture at Ikea (which ironically is considered cheap and nasty in Sweden, but luxury everywhere else!), eating, cooking, getting drunk, sleeping, internet shopping, filling out your tax return, reading poorly written stories in tabloids, watching brainless presenters on television, talking rubbish with friends etc. The actual skills required for this are very limited. If schools were simply there to prepare people for mediocre adult life, then school would be over in a year! You do not have to have very much intelligence to be a good sales person or entrepreneur or to become rich, you just need initiative. Having a 9-5 mediocre and mundane existence really isn't that much to shout about, and become very stale and boring unless you yourself make a mental effort to grow, learn and experience new things. Adults require intellectual stimulation and to learn, just like children. It is too easy to get into a routine that becomes extremely limiting until one's lust for life disappears. This is why band and fashion obsessed teenagers find adults so boring. Learning at school is intended to provide you with an understanding above and beyond what you need to integrate into society and to fulfill a 'normal' life. It is supposed to train the mind, allow you to learn how the universe and world functions on many levels, and to stimulate the imagination. It is sometimes hard to see the relevance of certain subjects at school, but when it comes to health, biology is a useful skill. History becomes increasingly important when trying to understand the news and current affairs, with most people having no clue about political history and the actual wars and institutions that have shaped our world today.

Perhaps schools should take the initiative to teach subjects that are actually relevant to one's life as a citizen. There are indeed new courses such as citizenship at schools, but do these provide a good grounding in a country's legal system, it's political system and the functioning of its economy? Many of these subjects are optional courses, but not mandatory. Indeed, I can remember about 40 minutes being spend on the current British political system at school, which was practically useless. If young adults are expected to understand how society works and positively engage in it, in a political sense, in an economic sense and in a legal sense, then they should be better educated. Society expects us to follow the rules without explaining what they are too us, and expect us to pay solicitors and financial advisors to tell us how we should interact with it; and indeed political candidates are rarely honest and one is often just relying on empty sales pitches and rhetoric upon which we base our limited political choices on, with often no clear idea or understanding of the processes involved - expecting political commentators to occasionally and flippantly explain some of what is going on if it affects a particular news story.

However, frequently, those with a low self-esteem or those lacking self-knowledge (those who are clueless in personal terms), tend to be most susceptible to manipulation, peer pressure and often are those that experiment with drugs. Low self-esteem can come from not engaging in social or sporting activities, perhaps through lack of encouragement, and perhaps through being told that one is no good at something. Which may be the case, as one has never really partaken in that activity very much. But it is these people who NEED the encouragement and should partake in that sport or activity MORE OFTEN, and should not just be criticised or assumed that they have no talent in this area. Parents should encourage their children to take part in activities (this does not mean suggest it once, then forget about it) on a continual basis during their childhood and never tell their children that they are no good at anything. Negative self-beliefs in one area often spread to other areas. Parents should help their children get to know themselves, but getting them to think about jobs and functions and processes in society, relationships and encourage social engagements, and give compliments and encouragement. Parents should activity question their children to help them figure out what they are really interested in and what their strengths are, and encourage them to build on these interests and strengths. Often those who lack confidence and have little self-knowledge focus inwards and do not take such an active interest in the traditions or activites within a society, which in turn does nothing to help them figure out what they want to do with their lives, doing nothing for their sense of direction or focus. Children and adults alike need certainty, need focus to be at their best. Low self-esteem, uncertainty and lack of focus leads to psychological problems.

It occurs with extreme regularity that when a youngster or teenager is asking for career advice, he is often given advice based on what is 'sensible' or 'logical', or what is most practical. In other words, if a teenager has a goal or vision, or a dream, the practicalities of that dream may be picked apart, perhaps not to simply inform the individual that it will be hard, but perhaps to put them off, or make them think twice. e.g. if a teenager is looking to enter a certain highly competitive field with little pay rewards, based on job satisfaction or a sense of purpose. What is rarely is impressed upon such individuals is that they should be questioned on how much they really want it. Is it really a dream? Or is it just something that sounded the best of the bundle at the time, that is not really being sought with any heart or determination? It should be impressed upon the individual that many things in this life are not easy, but with proper focus, self-belief, determination, and perseverence, anything is indeed possible. It is easy to look just in front of your nose and see a little difficulty and be discouraged. This is where encouragement, self-belief and self-knowledge come into play. Those who lack self-belief may give up on pursuing their dreams as they are discouraged too many times or given too many negative pieces of advice. However, what is rarely said is that if one picks something 'sensible' or more easily achievable, if it does not really match with a person's dreams, desire or ambitions, they may be quite miserable in that profession, even if it offers mediocrity and financial security. If people just settle for what is easy, then they may rely too heavily on emotional crutches or someone else's dream.

John F. Kennedy said in his famous 1962 speech:

'We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.' Did NASA give up the space race because it was a little difficult, and really they should have perhaps put their energy into creating civilian airliners or helicopters, or maybe putting more people in the desert (a 'remote and inhospitable' place, far away from the comfort and security of one's sofa)? If you don't try, you will only ever be mediocre. To achieve greatness, you need focus and determination. And you can live your dream. And you will have earnt it and it will be worth it. It will be truly yours. And you can feel proud of yourself.

It is clearly easier to appreciate something that you have created, built up, found, earnt or worked for yourself rather than something which is simply given to you as a present. For example, if you've saved the money to buy a car, choose the specification and buy it yourself, it feels great. But simply being given a car as a present or as a company car doesn't create the same feelings, and you are more likely to abuse that car as a result and not treat it with as much respect as if you bought it yourself. However, just because it is harder to appreciate something that you've inherited or been given, doesn't mean it can't be done! It simply requires a little more effort. The effort to put it in perspective and look at the situation objectively. This is often the reason why the middle classes in developed countries are often accused of being unappreciative, fussy, demanding, miserable and sometimes rather flakey. For teenagers, this is why so many middle class teenagers get depressed or are rebellious. When you get so much without having to lift a finger, everything loses its meaning. Far from doing their children a favour and showing them love, all it does is to create apathy and a sense of being spoilt. By getting more does not make one happier. Often it has the reverse effect. Meaning and gratitude is all important and without these we have nothing. Spoiling children and taking away their self-determinism and fight to get/earn what they want in life, making things too easy for them and not encouraging them to pursue their dreams and goals, separates cause from effect and takes away one's ability to feel good about things and often results in a loss of direction and disassociation. One aspect of this loss of meaning is the tendency to develop beliefs like 'I didn't ask for this' etc. and to simply look at what is wrong around you, lacking the ability to engage in the world around you in a positive way, and simply expecting more of everything to happen to you to make youself feel good, rather than feeling good and being grateful with what you've been blessed to actually have. It is sometimes referred to as the middle class disease. However, in industrialised countries, living standards have increased significantly over the last 30 years, and many segments of the working class are now rather affluent and try to ape the middle classes in their materialism and spoiling of children. So the 'disease' simply spreads to all segments of society.

© 2006-2024 Fabian Dee