I was a late bloomer. There's some self-praise embedded in that statement, because it implies that I bloomed, a point that could be disputed. So we'll just say that to the extent I bloomed, it happened late. Specifically: I didn't start dating until my late teen years, and it was also then I finally stopped growing and discovered my admittedly limited athletic abilities. Maybe most important, it was when I was around 17 when I rather suddenly gained some self-confidence and awareness of who I was.

That's enough self-disclosure for now, in fact for the next year or so; now I'll turn to late bloomers more generally. We regard late bloomers as somewhat odd, they are not typically the popular kids in high school, they seem a little lost, often they are rather nerdy. In fact, to say that someone is a late bloomer is usually a nice way of saying they are sort of a loser.

But here's a counter-intuitive spin on late bloomers: Rather than being slow to mature, maybe in fact they are actually ahead of their peers. Maybe they don't fit in because it takes several years for their peers to catch up to them. Because if you think about it, the sorts of things that late bloomers don't fit into are not exactly mature and adult behavior: an overwhelming concern with how you are seen by your peers, conformity to prevailing social norms, participation in fads, precocious sexuality, fanatic competition for position in the social hierarchy.

I don't really mean to suggest that early or middle bloomers are immature, that's a generalization that is surely unwarranted. But I'm interested in the fact that people kind of look down on late bloomers, which suggests that our cultural standards in fact encourage those behaviors I just mentioned in the previous paragraph, because when somebody doesn't act this way he or she is considered a weirdo.

Now we're back to something that I have often pointed out in this blog, the fact that our values are not always what we claim they are. Our society (and probably other societies as well) has a set of shadow values-behaviors that we officially we claim to deplore, but actually we do much to promote.

So why should our society encourage teen-agers to be highly conformist, obsessed with popularity and the latest fads, and to flaunt their developing sexuality? The reason is that these behaviors are in fact highly compatible with a culture based in entertainment and consumption, as ours is. Children who are very concerned with displaying how they are in touch with the latest trends are fabulous and dependable consumers, and their concerns drive the larger economy of trendiness. And children who are highly oriented to physical arousal are going to pursue it where they can find it, in drugs, entertainment and sex. The fact is that our social and economic system encourages a number of values and behaviors we claim to deplore. Our mild disdain for "late bloomers" is just one more example of this.

For more information, visit Peter G. Stromberg's website.  Photo posted on flickr by Annia316.

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