Conform to Survive?

I read this quote on a forum I frequent today, and it’s been bugging me ever since:

“Conformity is like a survival skill really. There has to be some comformity to avoid being harassed.”

To provide a little context, the conversation was based around a woman who has a daughter with Asperger’s.  Her daughter is eight, and going into the third grade, and although intellectually she functions at a fifth grade level, developmentally, she’s at about a four-year-old level.  Anyway, this little girl wanted a character backpack for school this year, specifically a Baby Jaguar bag from the TV show Go Diego Go. Yes, this bag is a little young for someone of her age.  And yes, it would probably be beneficial for mom to steer her away from choosing that style if she wants to avoid excessive teasing.  I can appreciate that, because it’s horrible to be made fun of, and even worse to have to watch your child go through that.

What I don’t get, however, is the advice she started getting from other mothers.  Apparently (and I don’t have experience with this yet, as my children aren’t old enough), the popular thing in that age group is Hannah Montana and High School Musical.  The first advice she was given was to steer her daughter toward a bag with one of those themes, if she “had” to have a character bag in the first place.  You know, help her fit in more.  Not really my style, but whatever.  The thing is, the daughter doesn’t like those shows, and isn’t really even aware of them.  She doesn’t want to watch them, talk about them, or get stuff merchandised with them.  Which, I would argue is entirely appropriate given her developmental age level.

But some mothers took it even farther.  The basically told this mother: “you should sit down with her and make her watch those shows, and hope that gets her to like it, and then she’ll be doing things that other kids her age are doing.”  Now, I’m sorry, but this advice is just appalling.  First of all, if the girl is developmentally that behind, she shouldn’t be watching shows that are so far over her comprehension.  It’s just inappropriate.  We wouldn’t be encouraging (I hope!) a four-year-old to watch those shows, so why would we encourage a child who is at that developmental level to watch?  Never mind that I don’t really get why eight-year-olds are watching a show called High School Musical–isn’t high school a teenager thing? But again, whatever.  Second of all, it just makes me crazy that we are so obsessed with fitting in in this world that we would actually encourage a mother to try to force her child to watch a show the child doesn’t like, and is not even developmentally ready for, just so she can fit in.  Is TV that important that we really need to push that issue?  I really hope not, because if it is, my children are in serious trouble!

So, the quote above is from the eight-year-old’s mother.  I’m assuming that because she has become accustomed to dealing with a daughter with a developmental issue, she is particularly sensitive to trying to help her child fit in with other kids her age.  But I still think it’s terrible that we push conformity to that extent, instead of celebrating our differences.  On one hand, sure, you need to learn to get along with others and cooperate in society (this does not necessarily mean you need to conform to survive!)–you wouldn’t last long in a job as an adult if you didn’t get that figured out.  On the other hand, though, you need to know who you are, especially if you’re a Christian, so that you don’t let others dictate your likes, dislikes, and most importantly, beliefs.

I find this attitude especially troubling, because this conversation took place on a Christian forum, among Christian mothers.  If anybody should be not worried about conforming, especially to what’s popular in the world, isn’t it Christians?  Doesn’t the fact that we’re Christians in the first place pretty much guarantee that in a lot of ways (maybe even most ways) we’re never really going to conform?  I’m not saying she should throw her to child to the lions to be made fun of, but I wish she could have the confidence in herself, and her daughter, to encourage her to be the child God made her to be, instead of trying to fit in so much with the world.

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