Cool as

What is cool

Last year when I was still teaching Ethics at my kids’ school, we had a conversation that still goes around and around in my head.

One of the boys, let’s call him Bruce, is one of those kids who is champing at the bit to grow up. He’s 10 years old and he already sports Bieb hair, weird sock strategy and an attitude. In my experience, these kids usually have an older sister.

Let’s just talk about the weird sock strategy for a second. See, when you put kids in uniform and they think they’re cool but they’re still too young to actually rebel, they turn to the sock. The way they wear their socks matters a great deal. Bruce wears one ankle sock fully pulled up and one scrunched down. He spends a lot of time pulling up that one sock and scrunching down the other. I snort laughed a little when I first noticed that the weird sock combination wasn’t accidental – it was a life strategy. I stopped laughing when the next week three other boys were wearing identical sock arrangements.

So Bruce is sitting in the Ethics class working his funny old socks and the topic of the day is “Being Vain”. Now, vanity is a very, very interesting topic to discuss with kids at the best of times, but never more than when the lesson prompts a person to ask about whether vanity is attached to being perceived as “cool”.

“I’m the leader of the cool group at our school,” Bruce pipes up, pulling up his sock. “I’m the coolest kid in the school.”

I cast my eyes around the circle to gauge the reaction of the other kids to Bruce’s (rather outlandish IMO) statement. I’m met with either nods of agreement (all wearing mismatched sock combination) or glazed indifference (not wearing mismatched socks).

“What do you think makes a person cool, Bruce,” I ask, mainly because I’m dying to know.

“I’m good at sport,” he responded confidently. “And I tell people what to do. That’s what makes me cool.”

“Does everyone agree that being good at sport and telling people what to do makes a person cool,” I throw to the group.

Nods all around. Bruce starts doing some kind of random interpretive dance to show just how cool he is and something about it irritates the f@#k out of me.

Maybe it was little Bronny from long ago, who was not good at sport and did not like being told what to do by kids fussing over socks, who said (somewhat more firmly than grown-up Bronny would have liked), “Well, Bruce, the way I see it is that if you have to tell everyone that you’re cool, you’re probably not very cool at all.”

Snorts all around and I saw one kid hurry to push his pulled-up sock down. I quickly got the conversation back on script, “Right everyone, is, um, being vain a bad thing?”

Bruce really got me thinking, though, because on so many levels that darn kid was right: People are cool because they tell us they’re cool. Fads and fashions come and go so quickly and the ‘cool people’ are the ones who follow those fashions. They’re actually not the ones inventing the trends – the true ‘cool people’ in my book – because the trendsetters turn in the spotlight is so fleeting. Blink and their turn is over.

Hipsters are the perfect example. Does anyone alive still think they’re cool? Well, once upon a time, back in the dark ages of 2011 they were supremely cool because they were just living their life in their own happy way. Then their (slightly) counter-culture approach to living hit the mainstream and everyone was a hipster for a brief moment in time (my moment was my fanciful flirtation with bike travel in 2012). The hipster movement grew and grew – hell, it became a goddamn movement – at the same pace as its cool factor shrank and sank. By the time Supre were churning out plaid hoodies and Cranks were making vintage-style bikes, being a hipster had the same cool factor as being a suburban mum. Mostly because suburban mums were now hipsters.

But you know what – and this is the bit that Bruce will never understand – the true hipsters don’t give a flying. The whole hipster thing came, conquered, blew up and moved to the ‘burbs and the original hipsters just kept on churning out their recycled coffee cup seedling farms and riding their vintage 2-speeds to work at their start-up tattoo and barber shop in Enmore. Hipster movement? What’s that?

We can laugh at that which used to be cool and is no longer cool (so, so many, many things), but we can never laugh at what coolness truly represents. The uniqueness that is people, just going about their day expressing themselves in a way that brings them pleasure, not really giving a shit about what others think about their choices.

Our kids grow to care a lot about what cool is and isn’t. I think our best bet is to remember that you can’t learn what is cool, but you can learn what isn’t. That kid who pushed his sock down after Bruce did his little I’m-the-coolest-ever dance? Yep, I’m keeping my eye on that kid.

What does ‘cool’ mean to you and how do you tackle it with your kids?

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  1. says

    ” I think our best bet is to remember that you can’t learn what is cool, but you can learn what isn’t.”
    Love that. I think that if you’re TRYING to be cool, you’ve already lost the battle haha.
    Kids really want to fit in. I was sometimes told I was ‘cool’ at school.
    “Oh, you’re in the cool group.”
    “You’re so cool. You like cool music etc.”
    Unless I was told by someone else it honestly never occurred to me. I hated the word ‘cool’ – it was embarrassing and I didn’t think it fit me. I still recoil when I hear it! I think nobody should dictate what’s cool to anybody else! What’s cool is when people are authentically themselves and don’t care what others think. I strive to be that kind of cool and I hope the Little Mister will too.

    • Maxabella says

      Me too, Kez, me too! I just hope my kids (all kids!) grow up realising that they’ve got all the cool they need inside them already. x

  2. Jen says

    Such a timley post, just when I was thinking of changing my entire parenting strategy because Miss15 is struggling to fit in, as she is too uncool for school.
    After another tearful conversation on the phone this morning, I am wondering what qualities (don’t mention resilience) can I instill in my Master6 so he does not go through the same pain. She is constantly on the outside and the butt of every joke….leading to a mentality – everything would be better if I wasn’t here. Unfortunately many kids think that the only way to be cool is to make other kids feel so insignificant.
    I think she is cool, she has enviable hair, beats to the sound of her own drum, shes witty and has an abundance of empathy and genuine care for others. Apparently these qualities aren’t the right ones. So, if anyone has a secret formula, please let me know.

    • says

      Nope, no magic I know of. I think kids just go through shit they have to figure out themselves. And it can take decades. That said, one of the best things I ever had going for me as a teen was a wide circle of friends, drawn from interest groups, not school. So even though I was probably the world’s uncoolest person to my school mates, I was the bee’s knees at the drama club (you can see how that might have worked…). Does your daughter have the same kind of outlet? I reckon that’s one of the secrets. For my (decidedly uncool for school) Max, it’s Scouts and Junior Rangers. See, us nerdy types who couldn’t be assed wearing the right clothes, have gotta stick together!! x

  3. says

    Cool to me growing up was my life. I just wanted to be cool, but alas I never was. Cool to me was wearing the right clothes, you know, having a swatch watch and a sportsgirl T-shirt and a pair of 501s – just like all the girls in the ‘popular crowd’. Then in my late teens, cool was grunge. Which suited me much better and I began to feel cool, because it was me. I came to realise, cool is from within, it is a feeling, not a look. A feeling of being okay in your skin, a feeling of confidence without being conceited. In reality it’s taken me till my late thirties to be almost totally comfortable and I feel like me, which is I guess, cool. But I know now, it’s the ones who try to be cool that are never really cool to begin with. They are trying just as much as the rest of us.

    • says

      It’s true that we all settle into ourselves at different stages in life. Would it be presumptuous/condescending/ stalkery of me to say that in the time I’ve known you online, I’ve watched you settle in. I’ve seen you find your cool. And very cool it is!! x

  4. says

    I think cool isn’t a label bestowed by others but a feeling within. We feel cool when we like ourselves. So on a real level Bruce is cool because he truly likes himself. Doesn’t mean he has to be a turd about it or feel good at the expense of others (but that’s an entirely different post). It takes some people years to learn to really like themselves, the good, the bad, the quirky, but the best way we can help our kids feel cool is to help them love and like themselves because at the end of the day it’s what YOU think of you that truly matters.

    • says

      I agree to a point but I do think cool is an externally recognised thing. To me it’s an accolade given by others, quite separate to how we feel about ourselves. I do think that only those who are comfy within ever truly get the label though. x

  5. Cat says

    I am going to read this post several times more Bron, thank you for starting this train of thought for me. I am not cool. I never have been. I felt that keenly in school because I was different, especially in primary school but I was never willing to change and not be me. I think my version of cool is someone who is true to themselves or to use the newer buzzword, “authentic”. Those are the kinds of people I’m drawn to. X

  6. says

    Such a great post Bron. My two are a bit too little yet for all this but there is still plenty of opportunities to speak with my 3-year-old about being unique and yourself. To me being unique is cool and not giving a rats about what anyone else is doing because you are comfortable being you.

    • says

      Cheers to that! Wouldn’t it be awesome if we somehow managed to raise an entire generation of kids who are immune to peer pressure? I wonder what would happen…

  7. says

    I love this post hard Bron. I hate to think of the hours I wasted at school worrying what others thought of me – I wish I had more balls to stand up for myself and be comfortable with me being me. That’s what I’ll be telling my tornadoes. There’s lots of Bruces in the world but hopefully more ethics classes like yours too xx

    • says

      I reckon it’s just part of being a kid of a certain age. I think I was blessed because I just never really got it. Never bothered to fit in especially.

  8. says

    Great post Bron. I say good for you for putting that kid in his place. Living in a liberal university town, we have quite a lot of hipsters. About once a week I comment to my husband about the sheer number of them – though who knows, since they all look exactly like, maybe I’m just seeing the same one all over town?

  9. says

    Miss 7 is just coming into that age group where “cool” stuff is important. In our house we have always taught that kindnes is cool and kindness never EVER goes out of fashion.

  10. says

    Oh bron – youve done it again my friend – socks and all. I for one am on a constant battle with one of my boys about socks – you are right, he TOTALLY uses them to rebel. The coolness I am trying to teach my kids is that kindness is cool. People forget trends and whos good at what, but they usually dont ever forget someone who was kind to them and THATs cool in my humble opinion xx

    • says

      Your humble opinion is right once again, Son. And I do wonder about the whole sock thing I’m going that none of my kids will ever care what their socks are doing and then I’ll know I succeeded in raising free thinkers?!?

  11. Reannon says

    I was talking with my eldest son, he’s almost 16, about what they were studying in English. He told me it was teenagers & society & their enviroment. Cool stuff & then he says “You know, I’m not like most kids my age? They are all going to parties & drinking & getting drunk & don’t do any of that.” Anmd he doesn’t, he’s an EMO kid, listens to hardcore metal, wears lots of black, goes to hole-in-the-wall gigs each week & hangs with girlfriend & best mate. To me THATS cool. He can see he dosn’t fit in the majority of his peers & he doesn’t care. He’s so happy doing his own thing, doing the stuff that really makes him happy he does not even care that he’s not like anyone else at school. I love that.

    • says

      He sounds awesome. I always wanted to be one of those kinds of kids at school, but alas, I cared too much what the boring people thought of me.

  12. says

    Yep well me who wasn’t so different from the Brony would have responded exactly the same way.
    Totally not interested in cool, I’m more into encouraging my kids to be individuals, or to be kind, considerate leaders but never cool followers.

  13. says

    Timely post Bron. My girls have just started at a new school and really need to find their feet. They are being very brave. We are having lots of conversations about what makes a real friend, they are not really on to the concept of “cool” yet but I’m trying to teach them that real friends are kind and caring and hope that they can take it from there. x

  14. says

    I came, I read, I laughed, you gave me lots to think about and now I’m heading back out to plant the winter veg before the full moon (so far from cool). Love the way you see the world. xx

  15. says

    It does my head in when Bell speaks of “the popular group” at school! When I said that they were actually the ones who decided they were popular, she had a little giggle.
    I have to say, I breathed a sigh of relief when she declared that peer pressure doesn’t help her make decisions. Still a little nervous about the upcoming teenage years though.
    With kids and adults, it seems to be the majority who are not so confident boost the egos of the “leaders”. Just the way of the world, I guess.
    I was watching the tattooed, bearded, pierced young chef do his thing at my new favourite coffee house yesterday, and I reckon he’d be horrified if anyone called him a hipster. Same as I hated the label “hippie”, 100 years ago, when my wardrobe consisted of tie-dye, sarongs and crochet toe sandals. These days, sadly I’m more hippy than hippie :)
    Awesome observations, as usual Bron x

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