When I was young it occurred to me time and again that I did not fit the common behaviour of such things as going to the movies, hanging out at the mall with friends, talking on the phone, and dressing in the latest brand-name clothing. I used to wonder why I had a different attitude about these things and others compared to my friends and would test myself to determine if I was being limited to do such things. I realized that sometimes it was limits and other times it was just me.
The most limiting factors for me were the cost to do and wear certain things and discipline from my parents. I could not wear brand-name clothing all the time because it was too expensive compared to the alternatives and could not hang out at the mall with friends because my parents thought that it was low-class and distracting me from being productive and spending time with the family. I used to feel like I was missing out because everyone else was doing it and that I didn't get enough attention from others for material reasons. "All my friends are doing it, why can't I?" I would exclaim to my parents. And their immediate response would be that I was being unreasonable and that it should not matter to me what others do and that they certainly do not care.
It took me a few years to realize why I was being unreasonable and that I ultimately live in a society which dictates the social norms of life. I also realized that it was beneficial for my parents to set limits for me in my adolescent years so that I could better identify myself and my habits apart from others and notice the differences among people. These limits helped me to understand my upbringing and my roots as well as feel a sense of pride that I could do what I wanted without feeling a need to follow. Limiting myself also helped me to understand that if I do choose to embrace a social norm that I should do so with discipline and restraint. It was a good step for me but I needed to build on that when I entered the real world on my own.
When you are on your own in your early twenties it is very easy to get sucked into what the 'in crowd' is doing and the new trends of the present. Social norms are not always ideal for a balanced lifestyle but they are based more or less on the commonality of people's behaviours and actions in society. We can choose to live on the boundaries or to follow certain social norms but it's up to us to decide what is ideal for our own lives depending on our situations.
I don't believe that it is smart however to disregard social norms completely. Social norms have been governed over a long history of social existence so it is not in one's best interest to act against these norms because they have been established for historical reasons. In the last century social norms have evolved to include materialism and convenience so in this modern day it is even harder to follow such social norms which have progressed backwards. Hopefully new discoveries and ideas such as the human genome project and the environmental movement can place us on a better life path.
Today, social norms help me to understand other people better-- their intentions, attitudes and opinions, stage in life, maturity, and their background. I feel that it is necessary to have this social template to help us mature and grow our knowledge of society and life as well as have our own opinions which we can further build on. We don't have to remain the same person we were in highschool-- social norms do not pressure us to do so. We need to embrace social norms because as we grow and age over time we can realize that social norms can help us to overcome our immaturity. We as humans are supposed to change just like our bodies do as we grow and we all need to embrace the cameleon in us in order to face an unpredictable and dynamic future.