Peer Groups and Self Esteem

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I’m glad you took care of your problem,” my friend commented. “We can see that you are happy with yourself.”

Kannan and Arun had been my friends from the fifth standard. They were my friends even as my illness set in, and I started withdrawing from social situations. I tried to be ‘invisible’ from most of my classmates but not from them. Sports, classes, school events they dragged me along. I used to tag along even when they wanted to talk to the girls. At an age when everyone wants to be ‘popular’ and ‘noticeable’, these guys didn’t care that I was weird. I didn’t think they knew that my behavior was noticeably different.

Many years later, I sought professional help. I now have a better understanding of how to cope with a crisis. When I got married, Kannan commented on what a good job I had done in helping myself. I realized that I would never have managed if these two hadn’t accepted me as I was, weird and all!”

A participant at one of the conferences I attended talked about how his friends had helped through his school days.

peer-groups-and-self-esteem

Teachers, think of the range of social interactions in your class. On one extreme you have the shy student too embarrassed to talk to the others and so won’t take the risk of drawing attention to himself. On the other hand, you have the ‘popular’ one who can’t seem to live without the limelight.

In between fall the others—the ‘popular wannabe’ who is willing to do anything for the sake of recognition. A few students enjoy a smaller circle of friends. Now and then their circle widens, and others join in. Finally, there’s the ‘mean’ kind whose interactions make others uncomfortable and unhappy.

Occasionally you come across the student who everyone likes and wants to befriend. I’ve had one child who fits this bill. To be honest, he scared me—he was interesting, confident, intelligent, kind, motivated, enjoyed challenges and understood his limitations. What’s more, he knew when to draw the line if his peers did something he didn’t like. I realized why the student scared me—he didn’t need me as much as the others! I’m sure you’ll meet one or two of his kind.

Peer interactions make up a significant part of a student’s school life. If they are pleasant and rewarding, they motivate a student. If they provoke fear and anxiety, students’ learning is hindered in many ways.

I remember from my school days that peer groups had a certain degree of uniformity as far as academic performance was concerned. You had the

  • Strong students (called ‘over enthu’ by the others),
  • Average lot (who got good marks without trying too hard, so why to bother?) and
  • mediocre (the lazy ones—irrespective of whether they had problems or not). I’m sure that hasn’t changed too much.

Students in the group reinforced each other’s learning behavior.

A skillful teacher knows how to change the dynamics and increase students’ social skills. The strengths of one student motivate the other. The over-achiever gets a different perspective on life besides the importance of academic performance. The comedian learns the organization and planning that lead to success.

Teachers, have you tried to stir up those peer groups in your class?

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