Why We Need to Encourage Emerging Identity Over Mass Conformity
Motherhood keeps me on my toes. As soon as I have it “all figured out”, here comes another curve ball to keep me guessing. My current dilemma, how to encourage the emerging identity of my growing children. As the mom of a teenager, I am in the weeds watching my maturing child figure out who they are and what they want in this crazy world. Pushing the status quo would be a more comfortable road for me. But what is more important, my comfort or my child’s confidence? I am here to tell you having a confident child ranks higher than any other marker on the parenting scale. Time to step out of my comfort zone in order for my child to explore their own identity and find their niche.
Be the Safe Space They Can Explore Identity
Children do not come with manuals. Which is unfortunate, because I would love a textbook to let me know if I am making the right choices as I parent these growing humans. You are also not guaranteed to have a small group of “mini-me” clones. As a matter of fact, you may end up with children who have polar opposite personalities and interests. Here comes the discomfort folks. Step back and accept that they are not you version 2.0. It is not a parenting failure. Our children are individuals, and they need to figure out what makes them tick, not blindly follow in our footsteps. Our job as parents is to be the safe space where they can explore. Exploration of the world can be scary. It is even scarier if the people you trust most are telling you no, No, NO, at every turn.
If Everyone Jumped Off a Bridge…
How many times have you heard or said—If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you jump too? I bet it is more times than you can count. The purpose of this statement is good. We all need to use our brains and think before we blindly follow the crowd. I say we need to apply this sentiment to identity as well. We don’t want our kids to conform to social pressures when it comes to things like alcohol and drugs, but then, in the same breath, we push social conformity. Just fit in, blend with the masses, it will make everything easier. Instead of pushing mass conformity, why don’t we try safe exploration? Choose your hard limits and give them some space to try on new looks, activities, groups, sports, etc.. As they explore, some things will stick, and others will be a flitting moment in time that you bring up when they are 30 in “remember when you” conversations.
Set Some Exploration Limits
Being forced into conformity does not build confident kids. Not to say every child has a burning desire to be different and break the mold. For some, exploring identity may involve forming new friendships or trying new sports. For others, it may look like wild hair, clothes, makeup, and shoes. In our house, identity exploration is centered on physical expression and appearance.
My teen does not have a conforming bone in her body when it comes to style. We set some hard limits—no piercings other than ears and no tattoos until you are out of high school. We also found a compromise; magnet sets to mimic the desired facial piercings and henna tattoos. Practice the look, without being permanent. We also set some limits on where and when we pull out the more extreme looks. There is a time and place for everything, after all.
Let’s Build Confident Kids
Over the last year, I stepped back and let the exploration of identity happen more and more. Outside of clothes and makeup, it also came in the form of trying new activities and meeting new people. What I’ve seen in the last year is an increased amount of confidence. A little thing like controlling her appearance provided new energy to control other areas of life. She stopped relying on me to solve all the problems and started looking for solutions on her own. Teachers noticed an increased willingness to communicate needs and ask for help. If we want to raise confident kids, we need to give them room to explore, make mistakes, and figure things out. It is impossible to know what small exploration could cause a momentous increase in confidence. There is a ripple effect in everything we do.
The Next Generation of Innovators
In my opinion, conformity stifles creativity and innovation. Look around, do we need more of the same or a new generation of innovators ready to lead us into the future? Some of the greatest inventions and ideas in history have come from people who did not quite fit the mold. The oddballs on the margins, who think outside the box, often create exactly what society needs to move forward. The neon purple hair that makes you cringe could boost a kid’s confidence enough they audition for a play. The first play might lead to a second. Years of theater could turn into a highly valued public speaking position. One thing leads to another from a little exploration of identity and the opportunity to figure out what makes me tick. Encourage the exploration. Your encouragement could lead to the next great innovation that changes the world as we know it. It could all start by saying yes to a box of purple hair dye.