My Peers, My Self

July 17, 2009
Jill taylor

Our childhood—especially the tween and teen years—is famously fraught with social anxiety, filled with whispers, crushes, and high drama as we learn how to navigate through increasingly adult issues.

I missed my 30 year high school reunion last weekend. I have a laundry list of reasons why I couldn’t go, starting with schedule that stays packed through the weekends and ending with the fact that I haven’t seen almost all of my classmates in, well, 30 years. You see, I’m not an overly sentimental person and I ditched my high school year book before I even graduated from college; if everyone else had changed as much as I did, I knew I wouldn’t recognize a soul, let alone remember names.

So you can imagine my surprise when I followed up with a former high school teacher a few days later and he knew details of my life that I hadn’t told my mother. He couldn’t remember the names of his sources (likely story, right?), but he did verify that the information came from a couple of different people.

Oh, how quickly we forget the social environment we operated on during our adolescent years. Somehow, the network of peers that we develop as adults at work and social organizations, never really reach that level of intimacy… if intimacy is indeed the right word for it. Our childhood—especially the tween and teen years–is famously fraught with social anxiety, filled with whispers, crushes, and high drama as we learn how to navigate through increasingly adult issues.

When my daughter complains that her friends aren’t spending as much time with her at summer camp as they did the week before, I have a habit of shrugging it off. I forget just how important peers are to children her age.

This response is definitely my “bad.” Research suggests that peers are so important that they actually shape children’s self perception. Take a look at this YouTube video on the topic, discussed by Jennifer H. Pfeifer, PhD, a researcher at University of Oregon.

Perhaps this explains, in part, why 30 years after leaving high school the social network is not entirely abandoned. While it appears that our self-perception is handled differently during our adult years, the peers we interacted with as children played a significant role in how we came to see ourselves.

I don’t know, maybe I did myself and my daughter a disservice this year by ditching. Do classes have 35 year reunions? With the way that time is flying, I guarantee I’ll have that answer sooner than I’d like.