so get it while it is hot … Audio: ABC Archive | Life Matters Interview about Teen Tribes
We snaffled it on its way down to the archive …. Now it’s up for reincarnation as a creative My Tribe remix – an interview from ABC Radio National’s Life Matters. Richard Aedy speaks with author Rebecca Sparrow about her recent book on teenage tribes. In Find Your Tribe (and nine other things I wish I’d known in high school) Sparrow talks about the tribes that she belonged to during her adolescence and how teenagers navigate the tricky world of friendships and loyalty.
Listening to it brings back painful memories of my own rather uneventful yet appropriately tortured ‘coming of age’ story. In our teens we are thought to be forging our independent identities and defining ourselves as different from our families. Bring on images of rebellious haircuts and risk-taking accessories. Ironically, our teens can be one of the most conformist periods in our lives – when we look the same as the next one and our peers wield untold power and influence over … OMG – like everything!
A while back I got curious about this and also about what happened to this powerful mix when we fall in with the ‘wrong crowd’ as a teen – so I interviewed family expert Andrew Fuller. I did it as part of a story for the Age’s Sunday Life! Magazine – below is an edited extract:
Fuller is a clinical psychologist and a lecturer in psychology at La Trobe University. He is also author of Raising Real People.
Adolescence is an intensely social period. Young people start forming their identity by thinking about their place in the world outside their family and deciding on who they want to hang out with. Commonly, during early high school kids relate to particular peer groups that share an identity, it might be the computer geeks, the ones who study hard or the cool gang.
During adolescence fitting in is everything. If you want to be seen as part of a group you must adapt the group’s rules, hierarchy and enjoy what they do. Having established a connection and sense of belonging, the individual should then be able to sort out what they want. While parents may feel the group subsumes their adolescent’s identity, this is actually their process of forming individual identity.
Strong peer groups become a concern if the adolescent gets locked into a particular group and can’t break away without destroying all their social networks. It’s also worrying if the teenager is dependent on one peer group that doesn’t accept them. Then the young person will do almost anything to connect with the group and gain their approval.
The best way to protect your child from undue peer influence is to ensure they have access to a diverse range of friendship groups. This means the adolescent is not reliant on one group’s acceptance and they are exposed to a selection of behavioural models they can identify with. In late primary school parents should start engineering these relationships by making sure their child has a couple of friendship groups, perhaps through sporting or cultural clubs.
Parents often say, ‘If it wasn’t for those kids-from-hell my teenager is mixing with – then everything would be fine’. Certainly other kids can encourage and make it easier for your child to behave badly, but it’s also your child’s doing.
Just to shake the parental tone of this post– I’d like to draw attention to a lovely text piece in the exhibition, A Typical Monday Afternoon English Class by Tribe Contributor jesswalker. This work will be featured in the first My Tribe 360documentaries Showcase!
image: by My Tribe Community Manager, Jessica Walker