Friday, February 6, 2009

A Dad's Advice to His Daughter

Forget "Popular"
Michael Laser

We’re in the car, my daughter in the back, me driving. Today was her first day of high school, and she tells me how Girl X, whom she’s known since kindergarten, walked past her in the hall and didn’t say Hi.

“Maybe she didn’t see you.”

“Uh-uh. She saw me.”

“Well, why wouldn’t she say hello?”

Ask a stupid question…

“Because she’s popular.”

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this sort of story from her, but it catches me off guard. There are 500 people in her freshman class, plus an amazing variety of after-school activities that she can’t wait to get involved in. I assumed she’d left the popularity issue behind her in middle school.

Since she seems upset about the snub, I remind her that she has plenty of friends, and her friends happen to be an extremely cool and funny bunch. Who cares if someone she used to have playdates with pretends she doesn’t exist? She agrees, but I can tell the incident will keep bothering her like a chipped tooth. Therefore, instead of letting it be, I’m going to try to solve this problem, once and for all.

What does the word popular mean, anyway? Let’s get clear on this. There’s the dictionary definition (“liked or appreciated by many people”), and then there’s the other meaning, the twisted one I’ve heard my daughter and her friends use, which says that, in order to be popular, you need at least four of the following: good looks, perfect hair, developed breasts, clothes and accessories that are considered cool this month, and a way of making people who aren’t your friends feel they aren’t good enough to be your friends. In other words, there’s often a lack of kindness involved, to put it mildly. I’m pretty sure that if it were in my daughter’s power to become just like Girl X, she would say, No thanks. Think about it: you wouldn’t really want her as a friend. So why worry about it if she snickers to her girlfriend instead of saying Hi to you?
That’s a sensible argument, but I know it won’t solve the problem. People have a deep need to be accepted; the best logic in the world won’t take away the sting of rejection. But here’s something that might. Remember the dictionary definition of popular? Guess what, daughter? You already are! Not only are you liked or appreciated by many, your friends are smart, creative, funny oddballs—the best kind.

There’s more. Consider this from the boys’ point of view. The guys in your circle of friends are multi-talented and messy, and they say things that crack me up when you repeat them. Do you really think any of them are secretly obsessing about the Cruel Excluders? If your guy friends think about Girl X at all, they’re most likely thinking, Keep her away from me.

As a matter of fact, I’ll go out on a limb here and say there’s a better chance one of them is thinking about you. I speak from experience. The girls I had crushes on weren’t the perfect beauties. They were the appealing ones, who laughed often and radiated sweetness. I’m pretty sure that the guys you like would rather go out with someone they can have fun with and feel close to than a girl who’s busy dominating the earth.

Daughter, I know that one essay won’t cure the hurt. But even if I can’t make the problem go away, I can promise that you’ll get past it.

Sure, you’re thinking. The oldest cliché in the world, Time heals all wounds. That’s what the mother dinosaur said to her baby when he banged his bony plate.

To which I say, No, really. The way it works is, you find things you love to do, and then you get so deeply involved in your passion that you forget all about the people who once made you feel hopelessly unwanted.

The best part is, it’s happening already. Last night, a week after our conversation in the car, the lead actress collapsed with a fever in the middle of “The Secret Garden,” and you, her understudy, had to rush onstage and take her place. Lucky for me, I happened to be in the audience, and got to watch you sing and act and earn a huge ovation. Remember what you told me on the way home? You said it was the happiest moment of your life (in the dressing room, when the rest of the cast cheered and hugged you), and also the scariest, and the grossest (because you had to put on the star’s sweat-soaked costume).

Now put yourself back on that stage and tell me: could anything in the world be less important than what the popular girls think of you?

1 comment:

Nikki Massaro Kauffman said...

I actually had a similar conversation with my five-year-old daughter.

It's hard to believe that even in Kindergarten little girls are trying to coach each other on being popular. (Do they get this from television shows that are too old for them for from older siblings?)

When the girls tried to get her to follow them, I explained that they misunderstood what popular meant. She had many friends from school, after school daycare and from dance class. She did not need to be bullied or to bully kids to be known or liked by other kids.

She has stood her ground with these kids and they all get along for now. I'm sure we'll fight this battle again next year (we had to do so in pre-K as well).

When I taught teenagers, I knew very few girls who were not bullies and yet not bullied either. I hope my daughter will be one of them someday.