What Kind of Kid am I Raising My Son to Be?


As a teacher I read a TON of young adult/kid literature. Today I was re-reading one of my favorites by Jerry Spinelli, Crash. This book features a rowdy, rambunctious, sometimes mean kid named Crash and his nerdy, vegetarian, small individual named Penn. Penn is dorky.He has all the calling cards of geekiness including whistling and looking all friendly. He walks up to Crash at age six wearing  button that say, “I’m a Flickertail.” Or “peace.” Crash messes with him. Calls him names, lies about his own name, shoots him with water-guns. Penn’s family is Quaker and doesn’t play with guns, so he just takes it when Crash mercilessly shoots him with water.

The story is told from Crash’s point of view, but Penn is the character you love. Except if you’re a middle schooler. They wonder why Penn doesn’t fight back. And they think Crash is funny. As an adult, I think Crash is a jerkface. He’s mean for no reason. He makes fun of Penn and takes his turtle.


Today as I was reading, I wondered which kind of kid my son would grow up to be.  I would hate for him to become a Crash. Right? He is popular. He is a leader in his school. He is a go-getter. He doesn’t get taken advantage of by anyone.  Not bad stuff. How important is it to me for my kid to be popular? To be a leader?


Penn is a lovable kid. He’s an individual who sticks to his guns despite the jeers of his classmates. In 7th grade, the scrawny kid goes out for cheerleading. He doesn’t wear designer or name-brand clothes. He wears second-hand clothes and tells. People.  About. It. This is middle school suicide. But he does it and you just want to hug him. Do I want my kid to become a Penn? He is sweet. He is kind. He is an independent little soul who does what’s in his heart. But he gets picked on. For many years. There are kids in the school who are dedicated to tormenting him. I HATE the idea of his peers hurting my son. I want to grab those little hooligans by their ears and give them a lecture about kindness and karma. But then what?


I was not a popular kid in school, but I wasn’t a social pariah, either.  Out of the two extremes, which would be better? I’m inclined to say that Penn’s situation is better because in the end, the Penns grow up and become interesting people. They are free-thinkers who develop fantastic lives because of being wonderful people. Many Crashes peak in high school and never learn their lesson.

And yet. There’s something to be said for popularity. Aren’t political races essentially popularity contests? Doesn’t the guy who is popular at work more likely to get the promotion? As a young Black kid, maybe my boy needs to put on a little bravado and bad-assed-ness to get by in school. I don’t want him to be all weak and punky. But I also don’t want him to be a bully. Maybe I’ll make him the nerdy kid who is popular and friendly and kind. (And as long as I’m wishing, cleans his room, obviously) Right now, his personality is sweet and funny. If a kid takes his toy, he just lets it go. He does have a temper, but he mostly just stomps his feet. He loves other kids. He sees other kids on the subway he looks at them and they seem to communicate non-verbally. It’s like he recognizes his people and wants to check in with them.

So I’m going to raise him to be a good person. He’s a good egg. We will continue to raise him to be a smart, sweet kid. He can be a leader and friendly. He can be tough, but know when to be regular again. I do not want him to be a jerk to other kids. I want him to be independent more so than popular, so we will definitely be encouraging critical thinking and a belief in himself so if he is picked on, he’ll have the inner strength and fortitude to shake it off. Also he’ll know that his mom will kick a 10 year-olds behind if that’s what she’s got to do.


So what about you? Do you think it’s important for your child to be popular? Are you raising her to be a free thinker, other’s people’s opinions be damned? Or do you focus on societal norms and encourage your child to stay within them because it’s safer? Or do you go back and forth, like yours truly? Why?

6 thoughts on “What Kind of Kid am I Raising My Son to Be?

  1. I have to be honest, I really wanted my son and daughter to be popular. I still find myself asking them who they played with, and what they did during recess. My husband on the other hand has always raised them to be individuals regardless of who cares. I started to realize that it is better to be a “Penn.” I was popular in school, and I am very social, so I figured my children would be like that. I know now, that it is better to be free-thinking, and secure in their own choices.


  2. One thing I heard recently that means a lot to me that I am trying to instill in my children: “Why are you working so hard to fit in when God made you to stand out?” I think we’d all like our children to be popular and well-liked, but not at the expense of standing out to fulfill their purpose. I was always well-liked, but also very opinionated and that turned some people off and continues to. That’s just fine with me. But other people’s opinions do matter – you just have to be able to discern when taking other people’s opinions is appropriate and when you need to do your own thing. I do want my children to be kind and considerate at all times, because that makes the things they say that other people don’t want to hear more palatable… and anyways – being well-liked (at least well respected) might actually get you farther in life than simply being “smart.”


  3. I have 4 children, 3 girls ages 6,4,&2 -yes surprisingly I still know my alphabet and can type my response to you. I would like for my children to be popular in the sense that they are sociable w/peers and such, know how to communicate assertively, and can adjust to the balancing act that is required in relationships. For me, OMG, I was socially awkward and it took me a while to get my groove and in some regards this held me back. So, my preference is for my girls to not have the same experience that I had-socially. Notice I said, my preference!!!!!! But just as I’m saying all of this at the same time I do encourage them to be individuals, honor their uniqueness, and to follow their minds/hearts because they come from a long line of free-thinking women. So for us, me and hubby, Balance is key. Balance in all things. Well, a long wordy way to say Good Post! I will keep an eye out for the next one too.


  4. Good article, however you are looking at things through your adult spectacles. In other words you have the experience and maturity to know more or less how things will turn out. An unfortunate reality is that when growing up there are cliques, your kid will fit into one of them, i.e: Jock, Nerd, Artsy, Jerk, Bully, Slacker etc..Your job is to work with your kids personality type and guide him accordingly; You teach him/her right and wrong and what society and you expect from them….and hope for the best…


    1. You make a great point. He is going to develop into who he’ll be. I just wonder which nudge to give him. Many of the kids I see were nudged into sports or the arts or something when they were too little to really choose for themselves. I’m going to try and let him show us. If he’s a jerk though, I’m going to nudge him the other way. Hard. 🙂


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