If My $12,000 Watch Makes You Feel Bad, You Probably Need to Work on Yourself.
With the exception of one small (err, actually kind of major) thing (see also: Phillips Exeter Faculty Lie to Sexual Assault Victim, Tell Her She Wasn't Assaulted), I totally love my high school. I mean, come on! Our classes took place around a Harkness table -- we constantly debated, discussed, and learned from each other. It was a totally epic learning experience.
But that didn't stop one of the most ridiculous Facebook conversations ever from happening on the alumni page this week.
Basically, people are outraged because an Exeter student -- some teenage girl none of us even knows -- wears a $12,500, diamond-encrusted Rolex. (The watch was stolen by a heroin addict, then recovered and returned.)
"So there's a part of me that feels like you're missing the "goodness and knowledge" lesson if you don't realize that some of your classmates are scholarship students and that wearing a $12,500 diamond encrusted watch to high school is both tacky and insensitive," one alum wrote.
Another alum wrote:
"In rural Thailand, as well as most of the country, public and private school children all wear uniforms, explicitly to 'level the playing field.' It removes at least a part of the inevitable distraction of who has what designer whatever."
Still another added:
"My daughter attends an artsy private high school in Los Angeles, one where multiple celebrity children attend. The admin has been very careful to restrict clothing and accessories to conform to certain guidelines, so as to avoid exactly the kind of issues a fifteen year old wearing a 12k watch might create."
But my question is, who are these students whose sense of self-worth is diminished by other people's watches -- and what's wrong with their parents?
I can't think of a single time in my life where I would have:
a) Noticed what kind of watch a peer was wearing, or
Maybe it's because of my "mom privilege." From an early age, my mom imparted solid values on me. My self-worth has never come from the clothes, shoes and accessories I was wearing. I mean, sure! It feels good to look nice. (On a side note: some so-called "experts" are saying not to call your daughter beautiful. Here's why they're completely wrong.)
But what feels even better is my achievements, awards, contributions, and ideas. You know -- the person I am on the inside?
Like, okay. Here's a story:
One time, I was playing in this middle school basketball tournament. My team was the underdog, but I didn't let that diminish the effort I put in. I hit the floor chasing loose balls. I hustled and stayed aggressive the entire game, no matter what the score. I boxed out my man and made sharp cuts until I was embarrassingly red in the face...
And we still lost.
After the game, coach took us into an empty classroom, sat us down, and wrote a single word on the board: "Heart."
He told us the importance of playing with heart -- how that mattered more than anything else. And then he said, "But, on this team, there's another way to say 'heart.'"
Then he turned to the chalkboard, crossed off "Heart," and replaced it with something else:
You think that what someone else has on their wrist could, in any way, have diminished that moment or what I took away from it? The validation, acknowledgement, and encouragement I felt, and what it said about me as a person?
And I'm not the only one. One alum wrote:
"I was a scholarship kid. One of my best friends Prep year was one of the wealthiest people in the world. He didn't talk about his money, and I didn't talk about my lack of it, and we did just fine."
"People can wear whatever they want. I know people who wear $30 watches and people who wear $30K watches.. The only thing that matters to me is the character of that person. I don't judge them based on their attire."
And still another:
"Not following why wearing an expensive watch equates to a lack of goodness or knowledge. Surely one can be good even while wearing an expensive watch. Let's not pass judgment on the victim here, especially when we know nothing about her."
Now, we're all alumni. Maybe things have changed. After all, today's youth are more fragile and sensitive than any other generation. There's an incredible new book out on this -- for those who haven't, check out Dr. Jean Twenge's iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy--and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood--and What That Means for the Rest of Us.
In addition to decreased resilience and increased anxiety, today's obsession with "identity" politics contributes to feelings of victimhood (rather than empowerment). Schools used to encourage children to think independently and fill their minds with facts and ideas. Now... we encourage them to think about themselves. Their "specialness" and "uniqueness." Their "identity."
Maybe if I showed up at Exeter -- a prestigious boarding school whose student body includes senators' children and offspring of the Fortune 500 -- obsessed with my "identity" as a white, Christian farm girl from Iowa... a watch on the wrist of someone I may or may not know could have hurt my feelings.
Instead, I showed up as a girl with Heart. With determination. Eager to be independent and chase bigger challenges than I'd had at home. Someone who cared more about inner characteristics than outer labels. I even made it a point not to wear "cool" or "sexy" clothes, because I wanted to be respected and loved for who I was, and not what I wore or looked like.
I'll never stop feeling grateful that I grew up before identity politics and the participation trophy movement... because who knows if I would have developed my strength and confidence otherwise?
It would be funny, if it weren't so sad, that the modern effort to "teach" self-esteem in schools has kind of resulted in worse self-esteem (but more narcissism) than ever.
But you know what else will backfire big time? Shaming students who wear expensive clothes and/or making rules against it. This doesn't build up poor and middle-class students. It infantilizes them! It reinforces the very message it's trying to subvert.
Humans are highly social learners. Rules like this teach low-income students that they SHOULD feel bad when they see expensive watches, instead of teaching them that expensive watches don't matter.
It teaches them that the clothing of people they may or may not even know can and SHOULD hurt them and make them question their belonging.
It teaches bad self-esteem and helplessness.
Combine this with speech codes and an obsession with "cultural sensitivity"... and you've got a very scared and underprepared generation of kids.
The only issue that should arise from a $12k watch is a security issue. But let's not be hypocritical in our attitudes about victim-blaming -- because what message does that send to girls and young women? "If you get robbed while wearing a $12,000 watch, it's your fault." "If you get sexually assaulted while wearing a miniskirt, it's....?"
Luckily, self-reliance and resilience are skills. They can be learned and taught. A few recommendations I'll throw out there include:
9/15/2017 02:35:46 pm
I find it extremely tacky. It is also somewhat tacky to discuss the attire of children wherever it is that this discussion is taking place. You make a good point that even poor children should not feel insecure when their wealthier classmates flaunt their wealth. However, one could also find issues with the psychology of the student who feels the need to wear this watch to class. But as you said, they are kids and they need to learn on their own.
9/15/2017 03:14:25 pm
I agree -- this whole conversation took place on a publicly-visible Facebook page that we know current students visit... and it was about children's individual wardrobe choices.
M Jonathan Garzillo
9/17/2017 11:14:26 am
I was quoted in this article as though I agreed with the author. I do not.
9/17/2017 11:53:54 am
The most interesting part of that Facebook discussion for me, Ava, is when you opined that addiction is not an illness and can be better addressed through character development. All while misciting the work of an academic psychologist. Impressive.
9/17/2017 06:55:10 pm
I didn't say it's NOT an illness. It obviously is. What I said was that treating people like they're helpless doesn't really help them. And that treating crimes commonly committed by addicts as crimes is a good thing, because it gives courts leverage to push them into treatment programs.
4/26/2022 04:35:24 pm
It's not an illness. Grow up and take responsibility for your own actions. I come from a neighborhood where heroin is sold, not used. Pretty much nobody uses heroin there. Hmmm I wonder why? Maybe because addicts tend to be entitled people who in many cases never experienced actual consequences for their actions.
M Jonathan Garzilll
9/17/2017 12:02:34 pm
Your deceptive use of someone else's words speaks far more to your "character" than your self-assessments.
9/17/2017 06:51:48 pm
If you feel misrepresented, it was entirely unintentional. It's possible I didn't understand the point you were trying to make. Which either means I misread it, or you could have clarified.
9/17/2017 06:53:44 pm
I think it's great that someone praised you one time for your 'heart', aka, good sportsmanship. I think it's great that you have enough 'heart' to empathize with a fifteen year old wearing 12.5k on her wrist. I also don't think your 'heart' or your 'values' have anything to do with the insecurity a fourteen year old might feel upon entering a prestigious school on a full scholarship, having received assistance to travel to campus, and dealing with the wealth of their peers flaunted in their face. Not knowing the owner of the watch or anything about them, of course I don't know if this particular item was flaunted. But I do remember stressing out about buying a dress for homecoming because I knew my mom's budget was going to be strained covering a quarter the price I heard some girls quoting when I was at PEA. That's not obsession with my identity, or some uniquely millennial fragility. That's the reason those schools- the ones you cited other people citing- have dress codes.
9/17/2017 09:30:57 pm
I can appreciate viewpoints different from my own. I probably spend half of my consumption time consuming authors and articles I don't (think I) agree with. I mentioned in the article, I also didn't wear accessories. I had a TimeX for cross country, and, eventually my class ring.
9/18/2017 09:25:11 pm
Wow, you... entirely missed my point. I'm not sure if you can't take criticism to the extent you refuse to even interact with opposing arguments, or if you are actually as self-centered and vapid as you seem. I'm going to give the benefit of the doubt and assume you're intentionally ignoring what I said. Good luck with the mommy blogging, I'm sure your irrelevant but heartwarming anecdotes are doing their job of entertaining rather than informing people.
9/18/2017 10:19:25 pm
Jillian Edwards, whoever you are,
4/26/2022 04:46:39 pm
Yeah nope. Disagree.
9/17/2017 06:53:58 pm
It's kind of funny how people are getting mad about being quoted, anonymously I may add, about stuff they said publically on FB. It's kind of like when Trump tweets something stupid and then gets mad at SNL for mocking him about it, lol. Good points in the article though. It's kind of crazy how much people get obsessed with identity issues these days and think everyone needs protection and safe spaces from people different from them.
9/17/2017 08:01:03 pm
With all things being searchable forever, I can understand why someone who holds their words with integrity would feel compelled to restate their stance, since if someone as educated as the author could have misread, then any number of other people might require clarification as well.
9/17/2017 09:38:41 pm
Though I wasn't 100% clear on your stance, I'll try to address this.
4/26/2022 04:48:38 pm
That's actually the complete opposite of what identity politics is, Yi.
9/18/2017 02:01:43 pm
Eva, I found this post from the Exonians page. You clearly struck more than one nerve. I would be interested in your views about how people react to status anxiety--not how they SHOULD react (for their own psychological good!), but how they DO react. Not all people are the same in this way, of course, but there is a biological/chemical reaction to the perception of threat to status. It seems to me that we are in a period where inequality has heightened sensitivity to status differences: there is higher to climb, and farther to fall. That is the Big Story of our time. It probably needs to be brought out of the background and into the foreground.
9/25/2017 12:06:02 pm
Interesting question. I think that how people react depends a lot on their mindset, as I described above. If you have a deep sense of self-worth, goals you're excited about, and a sense of belonging, you're going to have a very different reaction than someone who feels a weaker sense of belonging and autonomy.
9/19/2017 02:56:53 am
It is interesting to read this because in the UK almost all schools have a uniform and strict rules about accessories. One of the reasons for this is so that parents are not under pressure to buy the most fashionable clothes. I never liked wearing a uniform but then ours was not a good one. However, it gets a lot of support from parents because they know how strong peer pressure is.
9/19/2017 10:04:10 am
Ahh, the UK. On the topic of uniforms and dress codes, I'm actually somewhat ambivalent. There is evidence supporting either argument. I've attended schools with very lax dress codes, and schools with uniforms. Nothing really stuck out to me about either experience. Either way, I was going to school every day, having fun with my friends, learning new things, kicking the ball really far at recess -- I mean, basically the stuff I talked about in this article. Putting in effort and getting results I was proud of.
9/23/2017 05:56:39 pm
[[ I can't think of a single time in my life where I would have:
9/23/2017 09:17:05 pm
It's not about my "inhuman character and strength." I don't know what's so unbelievable about someone who doesn't give a shit about expensive clothes and watches. I didn't then. I don't now.
9/25/2017 11:12:27 am
"I don't know what's so unbelievable about someone who doesn't give a shit about expensive clothes and watches."
9/25/2017 11:47:28 am
I have human emotions. I'm just not insecure about other people's wealth. I'm not superhuman in that regard. Plenty of people feel the same way -- and, with a little cognitive reframing and/or effort to make accomplishments and contributions they're proud of, anyone can feel a stronger sense of self-worth, even in the face of extreme wealth.
10/1/2017 01:57:12 pm
(I came back to this with the text still in the comment box, but I thought I had sent it; so if this double posts, you can erase the first version - I edited the text below before submitting)
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Eva is a content specialist with a passion for play, travel... and a little bit of girl power. Read more >
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