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Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul's The Real Deal: School
Cliques, Classes, Clubs and More
By Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Deborah Reber
Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2012 Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC
All rights reserved.
THE SOCIAL SCENE
Perhaps no aspect of school is more stressful than navigating and making sense of the social scene. We received more submissions about your social lives than any other theme in this book, and we did our best to make sure "The Social Scene" reflects the range of things you're dealing with. Maybe you've had to deal with peer pressure or have been the target of gossip. Maybe you've never quite found a group of friends, or worse, you had one but then had to move and start all over again. Whatever your experience, the following chapter is guaranteed to give you a fresh take on dealing with the social scene in your school.
DOES YOUR SCHOOL HAVE ANY "QUEEN BEES"? You know the type. They're the girls who are impressively pretty, impeccably dressed and impossible to be around—unless of course you're one of the swarm. In Queen Bees and Wannabes (the book behind the movie Mean Girls), author Rosalind Wiseman explains that these queen bees rule their circle of friends through charisma, force, money, looks and manipulation. Like a hurricane gaining strength as it moves across warm water, these girls become more and more powerful by getting others to follow them.
Charisma is kind of like charm, but even more powerful. People who are charismatic can gain the adoration of everyone around them without much effort. Unfortunately, some people use their charisma for the wrong things.
So where do these power mongers come from? Some bizarre island in the South Pacific where designer clothes grow on trees and perfect complexions are handed out for Christmas? And where does this sense of entitlement come from, anyway? My guess is that this entitlement, at least in part, comes from us.
I used to be guilty of "queen bee worshipping." I thought that perfect appearances meant perfect lives. And even though I didn't necessarily want to be like these girls, I still fell victim to their powerful sting. I fed their hunger by letting them run the school, by being too afraid to stand up to them, by acting honored when they noticed I existed.
Some people say school uniforms would reduce stress over cliques and fashion, but 83% of students think uniforms are a bad idea.
Now, looking back at those girls who were the queen bees at my high school, I can't believe that I ever thought they were "all that." They somehow seem so mediocre, so normal. I guess that without the constant worshipping of other girls, these bees really were no different than I was. Better dressed, maybe, but the same through and through.
Teen queens are nothing new. Remember Alicia Silverstone's unforgettable character Cher in Clueless (1995)? She and her best friend are the ultimate queens at her posh Beverly Hills high school.
Behind the Scenes of Two Teen Queens
Bored with my life, irritated at who I was, and aching for change, I decided that middle school was the perfect time to introduce the "new me" to the world. My goal wasn't to become "popular." I was simply yearning for a new life. But as I began to morph from an awkward, frizzy-haired, acne-infested brace-face to a smiling, straight-haired, lip-glossed teenybopper, that was what happened. My peers flocked to my side, and I was swept up into a whirlwind of parties and gossip, friends and boys, makeup and drama. Life in the fast lane. I loved it. I loved life in the "in crowd."
Freaks and geeks, goths and jocks, preps and slackers, queens and populars, punks and ghettos ... most teens define themselves by which social group they belong to more than anything else.
Mean Girls (2004) gives a realistic glimpse of teen queens through the eyes of actress Lindsay Lohan, whose character unwittingly gets sucked into her high school's "it clique" with disastrous results.
Amid my radical transformation, I met Laurie. We became best friends—we were inseparable. We spent the days together, with the air conditioner buzzing, the TV blasting and brand-new glossy magazines strewn across her Winnie the Pooh bed sheets, sticking to our shaved, lotioned legs. We would point at the pictures of beauty: ladderlike stomachs, narrow calves, straight, blonde, highlighted hair. Inspired by these images of perfection, we'd spend hours in the drugstore, searching for the perfect eyeliner, cover-up or lipstick, then rush home to recreate the sultry looks on our own pale, youthful faces.
Three times a week we would go to the gym. Passing mothers and fathers, old people and teenage boys training for track, we'd run until we were the fastest, the most graceful, the most beautiful. We'd sit across from each other on the thigh machines, leaning forward, straining, counting breathlessly to 100. Or we'd be side-by-side on the ab machines, grunting in pain as we tried to rid ourselves of our "love handles" and baby fat. We would take breaks to sip at the water fountain and watch others work out. Envious of their dedication, we set weight goals for ourselves: 98 pounds, 95, 90.
After working out we would slip into our colorful, tiny, two-piece bathing suits and ease into the hot bubbling fizz of the Jacuzzi. Our eyes closed, we would sit in the water, beaded with wetness, listening to the jets and feeling our bodies pulsing in the heat.
Our friendship seemed simple. We were the "teen queens," the coolest in the grade. With our trendy clothes, hair ironed straight and faces painted, we strutted through the hallways, savoring the attention and basking in others' envy. We were smiling images of perfection, Polaroids of future prom queens. We looked so happy, confident, carefree.
HOW ABOUT YOU?
Do you identify yourself as being part of a group or clique?
But images often deceive. Sometimes, if you look close enough, you can see through goops of eyeliner and mascara and into the eyes. If you looked closely at either of us, you would see that we were simply living a façade. We knew it, and that was why we were best friends. Because together we could be insecure and imperfect, together it was okay to be ourselves.
Laurie and I no longer speak. It wasn't a devastating, heartbreaking fallout. Rather, it happened naturally, slowly, over time. Neither of us are the teen queens we once were. Without each other, the power was lost, the charisma gone, and each of us was left with only ourselves. I thought that I needed Laurie. I thought I needed her and our status as the "most popular" to be happy. Being with her, being part of the "in crowd" made me feel visible, like I was seen, and there was no need to question anything. I felt alive. I thrived in the spotlight and reveled in the attention. But as I have grown, my dependence on others to blossom has dissipated ... I have realized that the "it" girl I once was wasn't really me. It was me simply playing the part. It was me, going through the motions of who I thought I was supposed to be.
29% of teens say they feel the most pressure about the need to fit in.
Jessica M. McCann, Age 17
* * *
I'VE NEVER BEEN "THE NEW KID" in school, and I'm glad. I'm not sure I could've handled the pressure. I always felt so bad for the new kids, forced to introduce themselves in each and every class, all eyes drilling into the very core of their being, analyzing their clothes, their shoes, their braces, their cell phone, their pores. Yikes.
The number one reason families move is because someone gets a new job. Other reasons are moving into a better home or neighborhood, shortening commute time, and divorce.
Yet there were new students who survived and made it look easy ... the ones who spoke their names with confidence, correcting the teacher's horrific mispronunciation. The ones who didn't back down when the tough kids at school gave them a hard time. The ones who had more friends by lunchtime than I'd acquired in my whole school existence.
The WB's Everwood tells the tale of teen siblings Ephram and Delia as struggling new kids after moving with their dad from posh Manhattan to a small town in Colorado.
If you move around a lot because your parents are in the military, check out Military Teens on the Move (www.dod.mil/mtom/) for all kinds of information and support to help you get through it.
When a fresh face walked through the front door of my school it was like a "new kid alarm" went off. Everyone knew about it by the end of first period, the word spreading like wildfire. He's so hot! I heard her dad is the new principal. Did you see what he was wearing? Check out that hair! I can't imagine being put under that kind of microscope.
When kids are forced to go to a new school, they're essentially starting from scratch. It's hard to imagine until you step back and look at your own social circle. Think about it—how long did it take you to acquire your group of friends?
So maybe next time you see a new kid in school, do something unexpected ... say "hi," or let him or her sit with you at lunch. Who knows? Someday you might find yourself in the petri dish of a new high school, and you'll be looking out for a friendly face to do the same for you.
Being New Is Tough
I walked out of the guidance counselor's office determined and ready to embark on a three-year journey that would impact the rest of my life. It was a completely new start for me. This time, I was going to be popular, the smartest kid in school, pretty. Everything was going to go right. And it did— until I walked into my first- period class.
I was never fond of wearing expensive clothes, putting on makeup and spending hours doing my hair. All of my past friends and I were simple girls from middle-class families. Being a "prep" just wasn't for me. So when I walked into my new high school, I was in for a shock. It seemed like every single girl was identical—long, blonde hair, high heels, short skirts or tight jeans, and tank tops that boldly declared "Abercrombie." The guys all had shaggy hair, pants that defied gravity and a certain cockiness in their step and attitude.
CONSIDER THIS ...
Many cliques are formed based on factors like fashion and style. How important is fashion to you? If you're like most teens, it's a big deal. Teens spent an average of $1,700 in 2004 on clothes for themselves, most of it going toward labels like Abercrombie & Fitch.
Bewildered, I wondered what I had in common with these teens. I walked to my classes, looking for a friendly face in the crowd, but not coming across any that would even look my way. I had changed schools many times before, and I usually made quite a number of friends before lunch. However, it wasn't so easy this time around. Nobody, that is, nobody, seemed interested in talking to me (or looking at me for that matter). I was utterly alone. Lunch rolled by and I didn't even have anybody to sit with.
Movies about teens moving from the big city to the middle of nowhere used to be all the rage. In Footloose (1984), Kevin Bacon uses the power of dance to go from outcast city slicker to cool small-town icon.
Up to now, I had maintained a calm and cool attitude, but walking aimlessly around this new campus among the voices and sights of happy kids reunited with their friends tortured me. I casually took out my cell phone, called my mom, and promptly broke down. Everything that I had done and been in the past fifteen years of my life seemed to dissipate before my very eyes. I would never go to school with my old friends whom I had grown extremely close to. One always hears adults talking about their high school years and how great they were. At night, I sit awake and wonder if I'll ever be able to say that.
CONSIDER THIS ...
More than any other mode of communication, teens say IMing and e-mail are their top choices for maintaining their friendships. But be careful not to make any of these common e-mail bloopers:
Send a heartfelt e-mail to the wrong person.
Vent your frustration in an e-mail and hit send before you have a chance to cool off.
Hit "reply all" instead of "reply" with personal opinions that were intended only for your friend.
Many weeks have passed, and the social aspect of my new school has been a hard reality I have had to face every day. I have to learn how to make the most of the high school years without the popularity I have always dreamed of. I am constantly being reminded that school is not necessarily a place to socialize and be a beauty queen. However, having friends is an extremely important factor in succeeding academically and personally. I yearn for a friend who I can trust and share my sense of humor with.
Believe it or not, the African desert locust spends half of its five-month life moving around. In 1988, a swarm of these locusts traveled 3,000 miles in 10 days!
Although my hopes and dreams have been severely shaken, I'm sure somehow, someday, I'll take a step up this intriguing and complex social ladder. Until then, the only thing I can say is that it's tough being new!
Cori Oprescu, Age 15
OUTSIDE THE BOX
Maybe someday you'll find yourself faced with a tough move. If you do, here are some ideas for making it a little more bearable:
* Make a plan for staying in touch with your old friends, whether it's daily IMing, weekly cell phone calls, or visits over Christmas or summer break.
* Make a keepsakes album of all of your favorite things from your previous home so you can whip it out when you're feeling blue.
* Join a club or sport as soon as you start your new school so you can get to know people right off the bat
* Instead of focusing on the negatives of being "the new kid," think about the positives, like getting a fresh start. Nicknames, stigmas and reputations from your old school don't exist anymore!
HAVE YOU EVER "SOLD OUT" A FRIEND? Not sure what I mean? Well, have you ever ...
* not stood up for a friend who was getting picked on by someone more popular just because you wanted to save face?
* not wanted to be seen with a friend whose bad sense of style embarrassed you?
* heard a rumor going around about a friend and not done anything to clear it up, or worse, helped spread it around?
* put down or teased a friend just to make yourself look better?
Think long and hard. Most of us are guilty of selling out a friend at least once in our lives. It's part of human nature. I know I've done it. I had this friend who used to act kind of obnoxious around a group of seniors I was trying to impress, so behind her back I would roll my eyes at her right along with them. To this day, I can clearly remember the guilty feeling that went along with my betrayal and hoping my friend would never discover what I had done.
Now I realize that no matter what the circumstances, selling out a friend just doesn't end well. Either you're muddled with guilt, or your friend finds out what you did, or the people you're trying to impress decide they don't want you as a friend anyway, because, well, you obviously don't treat your friends very well! So I made a decision a long time ago: I would accept my friends for who they are, weird clothes, obnoxious behavior and all. So far, so good. Thank goodness they do the same for me every day.
In the teen movie Can't Buy Me Love (1987), Patrick Dempsey pays the most popular chick in school to be his girlfriend so he can go from loser to BMOC. Unfortunately he screws over his old friends and forgets who he is in the process.
I wished it had never happened. I wished I had never done what I did. I look back in time and think of how foolish I was. I remember what happened clear as day, replaying it over and over in my mind. In my mind I would change the events. Instead of going along with the scheme, I would say "no" and walk away. But that's not what really happened, and as I hard as I try, I can't change the past.
At the beginning of the school year I was a new transfer student. I dressed plainly and always tied my hair back. I had no extravagant clothes, wore no makeup. Let's face it— with my look no one was going to notice me.
Only 16% of students say fitting in with a certain crowd would raise their self-esteem.
Over the course of my first few months I gained a true friend. She introduced herself to me the first day I was in school, and we had eaten lunch together ever since. We talked about everything and trusted each other with our deepest, darkest secrets. In only two short months we were like sisters and did everything together. We often joked about what it would be like being the most popular girls in school and how it would be so cool to have everyone love us. I had seen the girls who were popular, and they were gorgeous. Perfect hair, teeth, skin, smiles, and most of all, perfect lives. From the outside, they had it all.
HOW ABOUT YOU?
Would you be happier if you were more popular at your school?
Then, a week before winter recess, the most popular girl in school, Rachel, came up tome in the hallway and pulled me into the empty locker room. At first, I wondered if she thought I was someone else. She had the usual girls and boys trailing behind her and they were all looking excited. I didn't know what was going on, but I just went along with it.
Excerpted from Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul's The Real Deal: School by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Deborah Reber. Copyright © 2012 Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC. Excerpted by permission of Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC.
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