Social Engineering! That’s it. It has a name. I am so relieved, because for years I’ve been calling it,
“That crazy thing moms do when they care way too much about their daughter’s* popularity, and they get involved in every detail, and are living vicariously through their child, and are choreographing her social life in a sad attempt to make up for their own disappointing adolescence.”
That’s quite a mouthful, so I was very grateful when a friend sent me this post recently in which Lisa Barr at GirlillaWarfare names this particular kind of insanity. To be fair, we all have a little crazy mom in us. We want our children to be well-liked and included socially. We don’t want them to be on the receiving end of the random, hurtful punishments passed out by Queen Bees. We want to protect them from any pain and disappointment, even though we know these are normal, necessary parts of growing up.
But, how far will we go to ensure their popularity? At what point does wanting the best for your child get warped into a sad Social Engineering experiment, where the lines between caring and meddling get blurred? In her post, Barr references a situation where a mom went on the school bus and literally saved seats for her daughter and the “in-crowd.” Most of us would agree this fits the crazy category, but it doesn’t have to be this obvious to be damaging. Popularity is a misguided goal for your child to have, and when you share this goal for her, the message you send is dangerous.
When you are a parent who thinks it is your responsibility to create a social life for your child, where does it end? You can buy them the same clothes the cool kids are wearing — at any cost. You can organize outings and sleepovers. You can hand pick the kids they spend time with. You can try to make friends with the parents of the children in the “popular group.” Now, with the advent of Instagram, Snapchat and the like, you can even micromanage their online presence, and help them brand themselves in a way designed to get the most Likes — the number of Likes, after all, being the new holy grail of popularity.
Or, here’s a thought. You can back off the social stuff and just be a parent. You can focus on teaching your child the skills she will need to be successful and respected in the real world. You can emphasize kindness and de-emphasize popularity. You can focus on character building and discourage social media profile building. You can create a home environment where your daughter feels safe and loved unconditionally, not one where she feels judged and scrutinized. I cannot imagine being raised by a mother obsessed with popularity, with no safe haven away from the intense social pressures of adolescence. Your child does not need another friend, she needs a mother. I believe if “Good Mom” was a job, and there was a list of duties, no where on that list would be Social Engineer.
*I hear the same madness goes on in boy groups. Just something else for me to look forward to on this tumultuous parenting ride.