What Do You Think Wednesday – Should We Conform To Society’s Rules?


question-mark-nothingI’ve seen several versions of the same story in the media in the past year or so.  It goes like this:

* Little Boy is especially attached to a pink sparkly accessory.

* Mom lets him wear it to the store.

* Mean Old Man says, “That’s for girls. You don’t want to grow up to be a sissy, do you?”

* Superhero Bystander says, “I think it’s wonderful that you love pink, sparkly things. I do to!”

* Everyone applauds each other for being such unique individuals and not letting society’s standards force them into conformity.

I applaud, too.  I truly believe that each person is specially created, unique from everyone else who has ever or will ever live.  You are literally God’s gift to mankind and, if you put your energy into acting like everyone else, you are depriving us of the individual that is you.

But I also wonder…

Are we making life harder than necessary on our children by teaching them to just let their freak flag fly whenever the urge hits?

How much of our “celebrating individuality” is just some form of thumbing our nose at the world and saying, “You can’t tell ME what to do!”

That doesn’t seem so much like individuality as pridefulness.

I’m not talking about telling a little girl who loves woodworking more than anything in the world that she has to play with an Easy Bake Oven because that’s “what girls do.”  But…

When my 2-year-old son sees his Mama putting on lipstick and says he wants some too and I respond, “No, baby. Lipstick is for Mamas.  Little boys wear chapstick,” am I forcing him into a mold or am I just teaching him to pick his battles wisely so that, when the day comes that he needs to really dig his heels in and fight he won’t be beaten down by all the little skirmishes he’s already been through.

What do you think?  Should we teach our kids to conform at times or should we always encourage individuality?

Nothing says, "I'm One of You," like a green, feathered cowboy hat and a pink fishing pole!

Nothing says, “I’m my own man,” like a green, feathered cowboy hat and a pink fishing pole!

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12 responses »

  1. Oh, you really wanted to open a can of worms this morning, didn’t you?
    Since you asked for opinions, here is mine.
    I think that we have gotten way off track with the individuality thing. (I had to chuckle with your comment about letting the freak flag fly) There should be boundaries, as in everything else in life! Just because you have a future nudist on your hands doesnt mean you should let them go to the store sans pants. There are certain social norms that have to be observed outside the home (unless of course you happen to live within the confines of a nudist colony, then go for it) But you get my drift…

    That being said, sometimes there is a fine line between sticking the middle finger up at social norms and fostering individuality, bu t I also think most reasonable people can make out the difference. I think your toddler wants to put on lipstick because he sees you doing it. I think your solution for allowing him to mimic your behavior with a socially acceptable choice (like chapstick) is perfect. These days, women can have a career in just about every single field, so encouraging a daughter in her love of wood working may take her down the road less traveled, but it isn’t something that qualifies as raising the “freak flag.”

    The bystanders? Well, IMHO, they need to mind their own business. My son carried a baby doll around for 3 months prior to the birth of his brother. We weren’t really the dolls with boys type but I wasn’t opposed if he was (after all, isn’t that kind of daddy training?) but despite his lack of interest in one, we DID encourage it because our pediatrician was worried that he needed a bit of “training” with a “safe baby” before the real one came along. We named him baby jo, and he went with us everywhere, and we treated him just like a real baby, kind of like those high school experiments. It worked. When the real baby came, there was not hitting, eye poking, smothering, etc. We trained him with the doll. Knowing what the doll went through, thank GOODNESS we did, but we were subject to a lot of horrible comments in public.

    I guess that last story is to illustrate that when you see that “freak flag” flying with someone else, you have no idea what the whole story may be. Maybe the pink sparkly blankie belonged to his sister, who passed away last week. What would the older man think of his comment then?

    So I guess in a nutshell, I think parents need to exercise common sense, and the rest of us need to mind our own business!

    (sorry, I know that was almost a post, not a comment, right?)

  2. I think you let your kids be themselves. Once they see the reactions of others, it will push them back into conformity. Then, they have to make sure they don’t lose themselves trying to fit into society. I wish I had realized that making myself happy is more important than what strangers think of me sooner.

    Now the only judgment I live in fear of is my own mother.

    Yeah for pink hair, mismatched socks, and tattoos!

  3. I love the idea of fostering individuality in my children, and allowing them to be who God created them to be. That said, we definitely still have boundaries with our kids.
    I once read a book about parenting that said something like, we discipline our kids in love, and if we don’t teach our kids what is acceptable, the world will later discipline them without love. I don’t know how well I’m conveying that, but basically I’m just saying that in the scope of learning socially acceptable norms, we can kindly tell our kids what is acceptable out in public, or we can not- but if we don’t teach them, the world will teach them in a much less kind way.
    I love that my kids are created so differently, but I want them to learn which battles are worth fighting, and when accepting societal norms is the better choice.

  4. My son has Aspergers and fies his freak flag (lol) OFTEN. But it is who he is. We try to teach him what is socially exceptable but in the end, if he isn’t hurting others, then they can stuff it!

  5. You are barking up the wrong tree here! I never conform! Never! I’m not even sure who made the rules, I actually blogged about that! I think people should feel free to do what they want, when they want and be free from judgement. Unless it causes bloodshed or irreparable emotional damage to another, gotta have some limits. You can’t be who you truly are if you are being who someone else expects you to be. I am so philosophical 😉

  6. Some middle ground would be nice, and like you say, it changes a bit with the circumstances. I agree with you that extreme non-conformity smacks of pride. My nephew enjoyed wearing pink tutus when he was a little boy. He’s not like that now. So no, uh…harm? done.

  7. As in most things in life, I think it is about balance. If a boy wants to wear pink, play with a doll, take dance lessons, or anything else stereotypically “girly”, I don’t think they should be told no. When we do that, we are encouraging social norms that are often backwards and outdated ways of thinking. Instead, it should open up the opportunities to have conversations with kids about how people can be mean and people have beliefs different from the ones held in this family. In the long run, they might decide they don’t want to show their individuality as much in public – maybe they won’t want to meet too much opposition – but at least they were told by their family that they are accepted and valued for who they are and whatever choice they make.

  8. It’s definitely something to think about. I think it’s one of those situations where you have to choose your battles. I agree with not letting your son wear lipstick. What would you do if he saw your bra and asked to wear it? But a sparkly headband on a toddler? Probably not a big thing. But it’s all definitely something to think about.
    Thanks for posting this on today’s Daily Blog Boost! 🙂

    – Brooke –

  9. Wow, I love reading all the comments. I have 5 kids, 3 boys and 2 girls. I let them be themselves, but it is interesting to watch them interact. They pick up on social norms way earlier than I thought they would.
    Visiting from the DBB.

  10. Like most commentors I think it depends on the situation, the age of the child and social norms in so far as the behavior doesn’t overtly hurt another person.

    For example, someone mentioned letting the little boy wear a tutu I applaud them for that for two reasons, he was able to express himself and he learned, if only subconsciously, what it feels like to be stared at and maybe as he grows older he will take that along with him.

    I also believe bystanders should keep their mouths shut unless they know the whole story. We have (had…haven’t seen him in a while) a man in our town who frequents stores dressed up in a pink tutu or a blue evening gown. At first glance many think the man is crazy, gay or just freaky. Most people don’t know out of the dress he is one of the best house painters in the area. Many years ago he suffered mental trauma when his younger sister was raped and killed, him dressing in womens clothing is his way of dealing with it.

    So, all that to say, if a person/kid really truly feels that letting their freak flag fly is letting them be more themselves and not just ‘sticking it to the man’ then go for it. And remember as bystanders we never know the full story. =)

  11. I like the way you’re doing it and differentiating between adults and kids (with the lipstick/Chapstick example) and not boys and girls. I think conforming to gender roles is stupid, mostly because there aren’t many things anymore that are gender specific. Women are “firemen” and men are chefs who prepare amazing meals. We aren’t relegated to gender-specifics dreams anymore, and that’s a wonderful step in the right direction.

    I think each child needs to learn what’s right for him or her, but I also don’t think there’s anything wrong with a little girl wanting a princess birthday party. If that’s what she wants, then do it. On that same page, if that’s what a boy wants, do it with that same enthusiasm!

    Either way, have cake. 🙂

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