Sex, Drugs and SATs

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The Judgment of Their Peers

Fact: A decade of economic prosperity and conspicuous consumption has raised the status bar in high-school corridors to levels that were incomprehensible a decade ago. In an age that celebrates flat-screen TVs and SUVs in every garage, your daughter may find it unbearable to carry her books in a generic backpack when everyone else has Kate Spade tote bags.

Tightly defined peer groups -- jocks and preppies, Goths and ravers, racial and gay cliques -- hold teens to surprisingly high and piercingly judgmental expectations. The social stigmatization this can create can be devastating. "The pain of being marginalized as a teenager lasts a lifetime," says Koplewicz.

What you can do now: Don't belittle your child's need to be accepted. If she's been ostracized by a group to which she very much wants to belong, acknowledge how lousy that feels. Listen compassionately to social crises and ask questions that nudge the conversation along: "So, how did you handle that?" Or, "Is there anything I can do to help make this better?"

At the same time, challenge groupthink. Is "everybody" doing something? Calmly mention that people respect those who don't bend with the wind.

Finally, reassure your child that as awful as this period is, it will end. Talk about the value of having one good friend instead of a passel of phonies. "Be very careful not to demonize the other kids," says Koplewicz. "Shifting allegiances can blindside you; your child's enemy one day may be her best friend the next." --Margery D. Rosen

Margery D. Rosen is editor-at-large of Ladies' Home Journal.


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