Over the past 14 years I have worked with literally tens of thousands of children and young people, and one thing which has struck me is that every group, every class, has its own unwritten social and cultural structure. Despite the fact that these groups have been from all over the world, so many of them display a predominating trait of conformity.
Children often feel the need to fit in, but sometimes they feel a need to conform based on a fear that being different will result in being cast out, ridiculed and bullied. Pack leaders set the rules and their followers supress their own individuality to be just like them, and they always have one eye on their leader for guidance on how they should react in any situation.
This behaviour is common within adult spaces too.
This is a toxic and pervasive societal pandemic "because who we see thriving in the world teaches us how to see ourselves" (America Ferrera).
When I have the pleasure to work with a group of diverse, intelligent, self-assured individuals I find them to be far more creative, open to new ideas and techniques, accepting of other people's differences, they are more willing to try and less concerned about getting it wrong, and are naturally far more interesting to work with than a group who are primarily concerned with impressing their peers.
The Black Lives Matter movement has, again, shone a spotlight on how toxic society conformity can be. It leads producers to believe they have to cast white actors in lead roles to increase audiences numbers and, as in the case of America Ferrera, BAME actors have been advised to bleach their skin! It is disgusting how pervasive this disease is.
The Covid-19 pandemic has closed schools around the world and there are justified, growing concerns about the mental health of children and young people. But the situation presents us with an opportunity!
With children isolated from their peer groups for so long, they may have had an opportunity to explore their individuality and be themselves without the influence of peers. As they return their class social hierarchy may be different and we should encourage them to embrace their individuality and support them as they find their own, independent strength in their talents, passions, beliefs and interests, rather than to re-conform.
America Ferrera sums this up brilliantly. Like many actors she has experienced racial discrimination and been advised to do some horrendous things. The truth is that young actors can do all of these things and still not get cast, only succeeding in making themselves miserable.
I hope society can change particularly for our children. We must encourage individuality from an early age and continue to embrace our differences as we grow so that we, as a society can grow.