AT AGE FOURTEEN I used to stare death rays at the inspirational posters in my English teacher’s classroom. While I can’t recall all the nauseating sentiments expressed on her walls, I know she had one of those “Hang in There” posters with a kitten clutching a rope — those were everywhere in the mid-1970s — as well as another with the words, “I get by with a little help from my friends.”
I liked the Beatles, and I liked that 1967 song from the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, and I hated that poster. Someone must have thought the song’s lyrics— vice president Spiro Agnew believed that “’friends’ were assorted drugs” — meant that being a popular person with steadfast pals made everything go smooth.
Invert the message and you get: “If you don’t have friends, you’re screwed.”
I had friends in high school, although the plural is misleading — I had ONE friend. Which is OK. I just wish I knew then what everyone knows now: that high school popularity is a poor predictor of future success or happiness. In The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth, author Alexandra Robbins argues that
- Being excluded in high school or middle school doesn’t mean that anything’s wrong with you.
- Popularity doesn’t make you happy
I’m not blaming high school for my clinical depression, but I sure could have used an Alexandra Robbins to make me feel better. Instead, a lot of my teachers offered this-is-the-best-time-of-your-life lectures. I can’t count how many times I heard adults kvetch about the responsibilities of adulthood and wax nostalgic about the unrestrained joy of adolescence.
Hold on to sixteen as long as you can
Changes come around real soon
Make us women and men
Imagine someone making THAT into a poster. Talk about hurling glum teens into a pit of despair!
I could be nuts, but I think today’s teachers and counselors should encourage kids to spend more time alone and shun the perils of popularity. Filmmaker Tim Burton said the same during a 2004 interview with The New York Times. “If you have a child, you should almost hope they’re not popular in high school,” Burton said. “You don’t like talking to anybody? You like sitting in your room alone? Well, we have nothing but hope for you.”
Composer Danny Elfman, a long-time contributor to Burton’s films and a part of that New York Times interview, agreed. “Where would we be without our painful childhoods?” he said
“We wouldn’t be here,” Burton answered. “None of this would exist.”