Dear Grandparenting: One of the most nervous things about being a grandmother is watching how your grandchildren fit in socially. Who do they hang around with? Are they popular? Do they care about being popular? This is not some piddling matter. Nothing matters more to my grandchildren than their friends. Friends define their world.
It starts pretty early. Before my grandchildren were even teenagers they had their special group of friends. It makes me nervous to think how much these friends influence what my grandchildren will do and what my grandchildren think of themselves. If they are rejected by the cool kids, will they curl up and die? Maybe they will fall in with a bunch of troublemakers or be picked on by bullies.
I hope you can give me some advice to put my mind at ease. I am glad my grandchildren are finally growing up and getting launched in life. But it makes me uneasy to think that the adults in our family have so little control over what they do and think. I don’t trust their friends to do the right thing by them. Grandbunny, Marshall, Michigan
Dear Grandbunny: It’s true that the great majority of grandchildren endeavor to find the right social fit at some point in their young lives. And that’s a good thing. Friendships play a fundamental role in growth and maturation. Companions help grandchildren gain self-esteem by seeing themselves as more likeable, and are allies that help them cope. Friends help grandchildren develop empathy for others, and lead to learning interpersonal skills like negotiation and working through disagreements.
One researcher found four general cliques or friendship groups that adolescents can join: the popular group, the “wannabe” group, the mid-level friendship group – which is the largest group of all – and the isolated group. But the boundaries of what’s considered “cool” or makes one popular are more flexible than you might imagine, and not every grandchild seeks an elevated social status. Cool kids are as likely to be bullied as anyone else, and frequently engage in risky, self-destructive behaviors.
We don’t doubt that how peers perceive them, and in turn how they perceive themselves, becomes important during adolescence as grandchildren begin to form their self-identity. Girls are especially likely to conform to social pressures. But then it gets back to you and other adult family members, at least according to Eric Erickson, a leading developmental psychologist of the 20th century. As teens begin to discover their true self-identity, they come to rely more on their beliefs about how they’re perceived by significant family adults like grandparents. Instead of the cool kids, it seems you will have the final word on how your grandchildren turn out after all.
GRAND REMARK OF THE WEEK
“There are two things I dislike about my granddaughter — when she takes her afternoon nap, and when she won’t let me take mine.” Gene Perret, humorist
Dee and Tom, married more than 50 years, have eight grandchildren. Together with Key, they welcome questions, suggestions and Grand Remarks of the Week. Send to P.O. Box 27454, Towson, MD, 21285. Call 410-963-4426.