Thursday, September 16, 2010

Not Just Another Jennifer: The Formative Years

Kludgy Mom posted the other day about her son and how she was concerned about his social skills at school, handling the popular kids, etc., was it nature or nurture? And then she witnessed him in action, and this year, HE'S one of the popular ones. It got me to thinking about how fluid our "status" is growing up.

I was very popular in the early grade school years. That sounds pretty uppity, but I can say that confidently because a couple of decades have passed since then, and because I didn't stay that way. My dad always jokes about me walking into school the first day of kindergarten knowing no one, and walking out on the last day talking with the 6th graders. I was friends with almost everybody in our school, because I wasn't afraid to just walk up to anyone and say, "Hi! I'm Jennifer. What's your name?"

Plus, I found things in common with everyone. I was a hyper-active tomboy, so I spent recess playing sports with the boys. But I also had a little sister, so I could play house with the girls. And I was very smart. Though I never attended pre-school, I could already read when I started kindergarten, so my classmates often asked me for help which I was more than happy to do since I loved to play teacher to aforementioned baby sister. I think it was natural that I was popular when I was young, when kids are more concerned with the true qualities of friendship, like who's willing to share and who will help you, before they get swayed by the politics and fads that inevitably present themselves regarding who's prettier/richer/cooler/insert appropriate superficial adjective here. As for the nature vs. nurture debate, I think a certain amount of that charisma is inherent - there are those who work at it, but most people are either ones you instantly want to be friends with, or are ones who eventually grow on you. Beyond that first impression, though, you need to have been taught those friendship qualities, so it's really a combination of the two at work.

If popularity was determined solely on charisma and being a good friend, it would be Around 4th or 5th grade, things changed. Girls started being more, well, girly. I didn't. I wasn't ready for puberty, which was fine, because my boobs weren't either. But I no longer belonged with the girls who talked about makeup and hairstyles, and the boys didn't want a girl to play football with, they wanted a girl who cheered for them on the sidelines. I didn’t know how to make that transition from tomboy to “girl”. There were others who did it fine. I had hoped 7th grade would be like in the movies – I’d take off my glasses, put on some makeup and let down my hair, and voila! Everyone would love me again. But alas, that’s not how it works in the real world! Not to mention that my parents are pretty conservative, so I wasn't allowed to do things a lot of the other kids were by the time I was in 6th grade - like go to the mall unsupervised, watch "R"-rated movies, etc. So I started elementary school as one of the popular kids, but ended it as a nerdy outcast with only 1 real friend.

Was it a tough road being nerdy until I graduated from high school? Yes. I cringe when I think about all the times my parents said, "The wouldn't tease you if they didn't like you." What I learned though is that it's not about the quantity of friendships (ie, popularity), but the quality. That one friend I had left? We're still friends today. She teaches my oldest daughter preschool. :)


Liz said...

I completely agree that personality aspects tend to be more Nature than Nurture. People just are who they are, and you were born a future Tom Boy. :)

Not Just Another Jennifer said...

Amen to that, Liz! I really leaned more towards nurture until I had my own kiddos, but I can really tell that a lot of it is innate, so we just have to "nurture" the positive aspects of their personalities and teach them how to adjust the negative ones. :)

Kat said...

I agree it is both. Some personalities just naturally draw you in and the kind of person they are keeps you there.

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