I can just hear some of you insisting, “I don’t care what other people think! I do whatever I want!” There is a strong urge in adolescence to declare your independence and say you only care about your own opinion. But be honest — don’t you care what certain people think? Most kids have a circle of people who of influence them. Teens care very much what this circle of people thinks, especially about them.
Most teenagers want to be independent, but they don’t want to be alone. They don’t want to stand out, away from the crowd. Most teenagers want to belong and have connection to other people, especially other teens.
During adolescence, friendships with other teens become extremely important. You care about what other teens think because:
- You want to be accepted by them.
- You don’t want to be rejected by them.
- You are afraid of what other people think. Fear makes you care.
Most teenagers have a difficult time believing that other people like them because they have a hard time liking themselves. As a result, it’s easy to understand when other people put them down, reject them, or make fun of them. It’s also easy to understand because they themselves put down other teens. Teens put each other down on a regular basis.
Leaders and Followers
There are some teens who are leaders and some teens who are followers. You might think that teens who are leaders don’t care what other people think, but even teens who are leaders care what other people think. After all, a leader really isn’t a leader unless other people follow. Leaders care about what followers think because if they don’t, those followers may leave and follow someone else. Teens who are followers care about what the leader thinks because they want to stay a part of the group.
The Power Principle
It is hard to be honest and admit you care what other people think. This gives those other people – whoever they are – power over you. You give them power:
- To judge you
- To have a say in what you should or shouldn’t do
- To make you feel good about yourself
- To make you feel bad about yourself
That’s a lot of power to give over to someone else. So what’s the answer? Should you not care what anyone else thinks of you? No, I don’t think that’s possible. I think it is okay to care what others think of you. The answer lies in caring most about what you think about yourself.
To Thine Own Self Be True
There is a famous playwright named William Shakespeare. In one of his plays, Hamlet, the character Hamlet said, “To thine own self be true.” In other words, in whatever you do, always be true to yourself. Sure, you can and will care about what other people think of you, but the most important thing is what you think of yourself. This is one of the most important tasks you have during adolescence. It involves:
- Figuring out who you are
- Figuring out who you want to be
- Liking who you are and who you want to be
Along the way, you’ll care about what your friends, parents, others family members, teachers, and coaches think. That’s fine, but use what they think to help you decide who it is you want to be. You need to keep the power to change who you are with you. To thine own self be true.
Try this exercise to see if it is helpful to you.
Talk It Out – “I care what ___ thinks of me because ___.” Fill in the blank with all the people whose opinion you value and then finish the sentence for each.
Act It Out – The next time someone tells you what you should think, say, or do, before you go along, decide what you want to do and then be true to yourself.
Think It Out – Who are the people you’ve given the power to change who you are? Be honest and think about some examples where you’ve done or said things you really didn’t want to because of what that person would think. Write your response.
Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 36 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.