Imitation Is The Best Form Of Flattery, But…

A fellow blogger kicked off an interesting project a few weeks ago. WickedStepMom challenged several in her blogging community to write on assigned topics addressing self-esteem issues in kids. The project is called “Beautiful Like Me” and you can read more about it here. My blog entry “Perfect 10” was my first contribution to her effort. Today’s focus is on what types of things children and teens feel the most pressure to imitate and why.

Most of us have heard imitation is the best form of flattery. It’s what we are told when our feathers are ruffled over someone copying what we feel to be uniquely ours. Though the imitation flatters the one being copied, what does it say about the one doing the imitating? It’s a tricky thing to answer when we are talking about kids. Is the imitation rooted in a lack of understanding their own identity at that point? Is it a way to have fun and explore paths taken by others? Are underlying insecurities coupled with a desperate need to fit in the motivation for imitation? At times I imagine it is a combination of all the above.

When I think back on my childhood, I don’t recall too many incidents where going along with what others were doing was a result of stress or peer pressure. I’ve always acted about 10 years older than my true age. Perhaps that is why it was somehow easy for me to say no thanks to the things others were doing that didn’t appeal to me or seemed to be a poor choice. Yes, I wanted to be wearing some of the same clothes as others. Yes, my vocabulary grew to include words like snap, crunch and totally awesome. Where it mattered, I was able to stay true to the real me. The biggies like drinking alcohol, sneaking out of my parents’ house, lying to my parents, blowing off schoolwork or sleeping around weren’t on the agenda and no amount of eye rolls or verbal jabs were going to change my mind. If others considered me a nerd or a dork, I was confident enough in my decisions not to care. My friends somehow knew where I stood on things like that and didn’t bother to harass me. I was a goody-goody rule follower. Since that had been the case from the beginning, it was simply who my friends knew me to be. No questions asked. No judgments made. In fact, I might go so far as to say it endeared them to me. I was just so “Lisa.”

Looking at my kids, I wonder if they will have the same inner strength to break away from the pack when necessary. Is it genetic or something molded over time? I haven’t a clue. I’m not sure what allowed me to be a kid comfortable in her own shoes. I’d like to think my kids will follow my path and grow to be confident individuals who choose imitation when it suits them and embrace their uniqueness at will. There is no way to see the future, however. Already I see my three year old playing the copycat game. A playmate laughs and she laughs. He runs while barking like a dog and she runs while barking like a dog. It’s fun for her to do and fun for me to watch.

Fast forward 10 years and it will likely be less amusing. I don’t have to have a teenager to notice how much pressure is in their lives when it comes to things like sex, alcohol, smoking and materialism. Adults and peers contribute to the ever growing message you aren’t interesting if you aren’t crossing lines. Your sexuality opens doors. Trinkets and gadgets symbolize how loved you are by your parents. Drinking and smoking shows the world you aren’t a child anymore. To an extent, this has been the message for ages. The message is delivered with greater frequency and power in the age of the internet and cable television. Perhaps what gave me an edge as a kid was the very real fact the time others had to influence me was limited. There were only 4 television stations. Time with friends was confined mostly to school hours. There was simply more time in my day to allow the real me to emerge without having the distractions of what others were doing and saying.

Could it really be that simple? Could it be our kids are imitating others so much because they don’t have enough time to themselves without the influences of the outside world? Are they afforded enough time to find out who they are without being submerged in an ocean of messages, influences and pressures? It’s worth considering. When I’m paying attention, I can tell at the end of the day how my daughter’s time was spent. If she spent most of her time with me, she is a walking, talking, mini-Lisa. If Nickelodeon ruled the roost, she’s the live version of Dora or one of the Backyardigans. The days she is more what I would call “Olivia” are the days when she’s enjoyed creative and quiet playtime on her own terms. Perhaps the commitment I need to make as a parent is to do what I can to make sure a healthy amount of time is carved out of my daughter’s schedule, no matter what her age, that is dedicated to her being her without magazines, television, schoolmates or the internet around. If I can give her a real chance at knowing who she is, she may find it easier to stay true to herself.

3 Responses to “Imitation Is The Best Form Of Flattery, But…”

  1. Great post! It is a unique person who can stand up to their peers. It takes a lot of inner strength and character. I hope you are able to pass it on.

    Your linked!

  2. Amy says:

    I really like your take on this. As I am very aware that media and technology contributes to the pressure, I never really thought about how time alone to be yourself is so important, I need it, so why not children!

    Thank you so much for your lovely thoughts and joining The Beautiful Like Me Project!

  3. Tricia says:

    This is so dead-on and insightful. Thanks for this. I need copious amounts of solo time, and I always have. I need time for reflection…time to be me…to figure out who me is, and giving the gift of time to my son isn’t something I’d though about in the same way you presented it. Wonderful!