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Adolescent Health & Mental Health

What is "Cool"? (What's Hot? What's Not?)

As younger children, we learn right and wrong and also what gets us the most positive response from the people most important to us. A smile, a clever trick, a certain savoir faire. If we were "cool" with our parents, assuming we had parents of course, we usually felt pretty good as long as people were loving and caring for us.

But adolescence is a whole new experience. There are kids in school who are downright scary, and those we wish we could be just like. There are all kinds of obstacles to having the whole world simply declare you the perfect young lady or man, or the world's most popular student in school.

Now it gets tricky to walk down the line, trying to make parents proud (or at least not get grounded) while staying popular with those you respect and admire. It's tough staying clear of the "geek of the year" award, or resisting peer pressure to try a few things which may not be too "cool". Or right. Or safe.

The teen years are driven by the hormone-powered energy and optimism that comes only with adolescence: the feeling of being invincible, with the world just waiting to welcome you to good times just ahead. Driver's licenses, freedom, romance and trust will soon be the prizes, but many don't have the patience to wait.

And to whom does a teen turn to see what is "normal" or not? Other teens, of course! Friends. The same one your parents ask questions about and everyone else whispers rumors about. Who likes who? Who is the smartest, who's going to fight? Who is the cutest, the prettiest, the best dancer or fighter, the best dressed, best in sports, best of friends, or just plain "cool".

"Your sneakers and attitude are of equal importance...."

Definitely you want to look cool to the "right" group of friends; and your sneakers and attitude are of equal importance in school. And maybe your smile or your shape, or your jokes or your brains or your brawn are what make YOU feel good. Or maybe you only wish to be popular but you're really quite shy, or embarassed or slow, too heavy or thin, or you want to make friends but don't know where to begin.

But there has to be something which is "special" about you:

We all have our gifts!

Self-esteem, which I find teens can recite lessons on at the drop of a hat, comes from within each of us, that part of us which says, hey, I'm real good at this! For some people it's being artistic, or cute, or having a pleasant voice. For others it's being brilliant at something, or just being "good". Still others get their self-esteem making grades, points, or money. This is true throughout one's entire life.

We all have to feel good about ourselves, from the love we have at home, from the respect and acceptance of our friends, and--the one thing we have total control over-- from what we actually do with our ability and our blessings. And that is the secret of self-esteem.

But teens are really just beginning to test themselves, at attracting the opposite sex, at keeping the love at home while not daring to be seen alive with parents in public, and a few other pretty tough balancing acts.

We all know that the teen years are nothing if not a determination to be recognized, as someone or something who is appreciated. Parents have a tough time with this. So do kids. But since time began, teens have looked to other teens for what is "cool", which changes by the week in many ways, and in other ways never changes at all.

Keeping in mind self esteem, peer pressure, hormones, and social experiences in middle schools ....It's no wonder that teens are so influenced by that which is cool and that which is not. Recently I asked a group of teens, boys and girls aged 12 to 18, to comment on 3 simple questions, "What's Cool?", "What's Hot?", and "What's Not?"

What's Cool?


"Chess and video." (13)
"Hanging out, roller blading, alternative music". (14)
"You know what made me feel special? When I graduated I got an award and when they said my name, everybody cheered" (14)
"Beepers" (14)

[In the '10s Cool includes: YouTube, music, games, & i-Things. Plus: Sharing photos/videos/events on Facebook.]


"Beating my 15-year old [boy] cousin in Jetskiing" (12)
"Boys. Going out, TV, Nintendo, family, friends. Dressing cool, like me." (13)
"Music, body piercing" (14)
"Dying your hair purple, bell bottoms...the 60's were cool."(14)
"I live in the projects, everybody dresses a certain way.[baggy jeans] For me, that's cool, being totally different from everybody else" (14)
"Being yourself. Staying on a straight line, not getting pregnant at 14, using drugs, smoking cigarettes, thinking it's cool. It's NOT cool. If people would stop looking for approval, they'd be happy being themselves." (18)


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