In the Twilight Zone episode “Eye of the Beholder” by Rod Serling, a woman goes through surgery after surgery in order to try to achieve the beauty by which she is surrounded. Each surgery ends up as a failure, and with each she grows more and more hopeless that she is unlike everyone else around her. At the end of the episode, it it revealed that a beautiful woman is really trying to conform to the pig-like faces of everyone else, or the societal norm, highlighting the way society’s concept of “beauty” can sometimes be truly absurd, subjective, and alienating.
This episode is a perfect example of conformity, or shaping actions and beliefs to align with the opinions and behaviors of others.
Unfortunately, this episode has become a reality. Currently, teenagers conform to anything and everything to avoid standing out in the fear of being judged or exiled by their peers, even if they do not agree to the beliefs of the
clique they have chosen to fit into.
Through EIRC’S* Gifted and Talented R.O.G.A.T.E program, I have been able to conduct an in-depth study on this growing problem. R.O.G.A.T.E is a rigorous program in which students are able to choose a topic, form a hypothesis about it, and research it. After the research is gathered and organized, we are encouraged to present our findings to their peers.
Of course, there is healthy conformity. Listening when your mother tells you to wash the dishes is considered healthy and normal.
However, the unhealthy kind, in which teens blindly follow the ideas and actions of a group of people, without realizing what kind of negative effects it has on them and society today, is growing to be increasingly common.
There are some main causes for why this has been increasing in the past few years. Things like seeing skinny models with perfect bodies in magazines and on social media makes teens believe that the only way they will feel good about themselves is to look like them. If they don’t, they pretend to look like them in order to “fake it until they make it”. However, most pictures in magazines and on social media are so photoshopped that it’s unrealistic to look like that.
Also, teenagers are still exploring themselves. They want to establish their identity without being the same as their parents. They often come to the conclusion that acting like a certain group of people will allow them to establish their identity and have stability and acceptance in their lives. When they find that sense of family within their clique, they do not realize that they have been conforming.
Some of the effects of this level of conformity are that teens tend to mature at a younger age in hopes of fitting in. Makeup usage has shot up by 90% just in the last decade. Moreover, diversity has been lost. Groups like goths have ceased to exist, because everyone tries to fit in with what they think is considered “cool,” and have blended in with everyone else. Even misfits tend to dress and act like each other in order to fit in amongst themselves.
Teens tend to change their personality when they come into contact with new people, shifting from being shallow and petty to caring in a matter of minutes. This stress of always needing to fit in causes teens to be afraid of the possibility of not being able to, even at lunch or at a school dance.
In the Ash Experiment, part of a study done on conformity and human behavior, a teen sat with many actors and was given a set of lines. He was asked to determine which of the two lines were equally sized. Every time he would give the correct answer, the actors would give the wrong answer. After only two or three questions, the teen started giving the same incorrect answer as the rest of the actors, not even confident enough to trust what he saw with his own eyes over others.
However, it’s not entirely the teen’s fault that they feel the need to conform. In today’s world, there are numerous outside influences that put too much pressure on them, such as commercials and social media. However, conformity can be lessened. If all teenagers got a sense of empathy and understanding from their families, they may not feel such a huge need to conform to their friends or a certain clique. It is very important for parents to develop connections with their children, and influence them in a way where they are able to accept diversity, empathize for others, and turn down negative influences.
Comfortable teens are able to develop the ability to make choices about what to think, how to act, and also make individual decisions, without feeling stress when these decisions don’t conform to peer and societal norms. _____________________________________________________________________________________________
*EIRC is a public agency specializing in education-related programs and services for parents, schools, communities, nonprofit organizations and privately held businesses throughout New Jersey. EIRC offers many great resources under one roof ranging from gifted and special education services to creative problem solving, from nationally validated programs in science, mathematics and geography to child care and child assault prevention, from web development, graphics and printing to computer instruction, and from teacher in-service and curriculum design to international exchange programs.
The Gold Satori is one component of ROGATE, a Gifted and Talented program offering. Students who qualify in Critical Issues may apply for Gold Satori. Students applying for Gold Satori work independently completing community service and extending their Critical Issues research. For more information about any of the EIRC programs, visit their website.