The Smallest Herd: Understanding the Interplay of Individuality and Social Groups in Youth Development

Greg Twemlow
5 min readOct 30, 2023
www.herdsandme.com

Why Should You Read This Article?

In an age dominated by social media, peer pressure, and an increasing sense of disconnection despite technological advances, understanding the dynamics of “herd mentality” is more crucial than ever. This article highlights an overlooked but vital aspect of human psychology and social interaction. By comprehending how we fit into various groups and the pressures exerted by them, we arm ourselves with the knowledge to make informed decisions and cultivate a well-rounded sense of self.

Why Should Parents Read This Article?

As parents, understanding the social dynamics your child faces can offer invaluable insights into their behavior, stress levels, and overall well-being. Knowing how to navigate the complexities of social groups can help you provide more nuanced support and guidance to your child. This article serves as a resource for parents aiming to go beyond traditional approaches to child-rearing, offering strategies for building resilience and self-awareness in their children.

Why Should Teenagers Read This Article?

For teenagers, the pull of belonging to a group is often at its peak, making this phase ripe for conflicts between individual desires and group expectations. This article provides a framework to understand these pressures better and to make sense of the often confusing emotions and decisions one faces during adolescence. Reading this could be the first step in fostering a resilient mindset, aware of the pressures from multiple “herds” but rooted in a strong sense of self.

Social Media as a (Destructive) Herd

I argue that social media is a “herd” and far too often a destructive herd. Bullying being a conflict between herds is intriguing and holds substantial implications. Both are rooted in the dynamics of social interaction and the psychological struggle between conformity and individuality.

  1. Social Media as a Herd: The nature of social media platforms exacerbates herd behavior by rewarding conformity (likes, shares, retweets) and punishing divergence (trolling, canceling). The anonymity and distance provided by online interaction can also make this “herd” particularly brutal.
  2. Bullying as Herd Conflict: In traditional settings, bullying often arises when an individual doesn’t conform to the norms of a particular group or when two groups have incompatible values or objectives. Online, these dynamics can get amplified and more complex, sometimes involving multiple overlapping “herds.”
  3. Potential Solutions:
  • Reframe the Experience: Help the bullied individual understand that the bullying is often not a personal attack but a byproduct of herd dynamics. This won’t necessarily make the experience less painful, but it may make it easier to depersonalize and strategize a response.
  • Leverage Other Herds: Encourage the person to seek out supportive social circles, whether they are online communities, extracurricular groups, or family, where the norms are more aligned with their values and where they can draw emotional strength.
  • Skills Development: Teach practical skills like assertiveness, negotiation, and conflict resolution that can be used to either deflect bullying or to extract oneself from a toxic environment.

By redefining bullying as a “conflict between herds,” we might provide bullied individuals with a different lens to understand their experiences. This reframing could offer not just emotional relief but also tangible strategies for dealing with the situation. I realize this is somewhat speculative, and extensive research and testing would be needed to validate these ideas’ effectiveness fully.

General Introduction

We are all part of multiple “herds” — groups that exert social pressure and expectations upon us, consciously or subconsciously shaping our behavior. Starting from the earliest years of life, these groups play a significant role in our development, influencing how we see ourselves and the world. This article explores the complexities of belonging to multiple herds, offers strategies to build resilience among young people, and discusses the age at which children can start comprehending these social dynamics.

The Age of Understanding Herds

The concept of belonging to multiple herds and the pressures that come with it can be understood at different ages. Children as young as 4–5 start grasping the basic ideas of groups and belonging. However, a more nuanced understanding of individuality versus group expectations can be better grasped around 9–12. This is when abstract thinking takes root, enabling kids to reflect on their role within various social structures.

Human Life vs. Animal Herds

Unlike many wild animals born into a single herd that they stick with for life, humans engage with numerous herds throughout their existence. Animal herds are primarily focused on survival, and their actions are instinctual and geared toward the collective good. In contrast, human herds often serve social purposes and can add layers of complexity and stress that animals do not experience.

Parental Awareness and Individual Behavior

Parents are often aware, at least to some degree, of the influence of social groups on their children. However, the nuanced and subconscious impact of these ‘herds’ may be under-recognized. Without addressing the underlying social pressures, focusing solely on academic performance or behavior can be superficial.

Human behavior, especially among adolescents, can also be influenced significantly by herd mentality. While some behaviors align with the expectations of their social groups, rebellious behaviors can be understood as a form of resistance against these norms.

Building Resilience

One of the critical tasks for educators and parents is teaching young people to understand and value their “self,” which can be considered as the smallest herd. Being aware of one’s unique qualities while navigating the expectations of multiple herds can serve as a cornerstone for personal growth and resilience.

Conclusion

Understanding the interplay between individuality and social belonging is crucial for youth development. Starting from a young age, children can be equipped with the tools to navigate the complexities of multiple social circles, thereby fostering resilience and self-awareness. It’s an avenue worth exploring for any educator or parent looking to provide a more rounded, holistic upbringing.

About the author: Greg Twemlow, Co-Founder of Future Skills Studio, father of three, and perhaps one day a grandfather.

Greg Twemlow: Sharing what I’ve learned from 35 years as a citizen of the world, parent, corporate executive, entrepreneur, and, since 2018, CEO of Future Skills Studio, focused on experiential learning programs.

--

--

Greg Twemlow

Pioneering AI-Enhanced Educational Strategies | Champion of Lifelong Learning & Student Success in the GenAI Era