To be normal means to fulfill social and cultural expectations operating within universal parameters set by society and culture. During the teenage years, individuals usually engage in a deliberate search for personal identity. The idea of being “normal” often primarily targets young adults because of this identity search that they generally pursue.

Etymology/Synonyms of Normal

Etymology of normal: from normalis, meaning “carpenter’s square,” “in conformity with rule,” “usual”. In the 1500s, the definition of normal was much as it is today—“typical [and] common.” The 1640s brought a new definition: “standing at a right angle.” This definition referred to a carpenter’s square, a tool used by carpenters to measure right angles. [1]

Some synonyms for normal include: fits in, complies with a mold, unsurprising, expected, regular, unremarkable, precedented, unoriginal, average,standard, and common.
Dictionary Definitions and Commentary of Normal

Constituting or conforming to a type or standard; regular, usual, typical; ordinary, conventional.[2] A normal mode of an oscillating system is a pattern of motion in which all parts of the system move sinusoidally with the same frequency and with a fixed phase relation.[3] Similar to parallel lines; these waves do not self-altar–they change only when acted upon. By stronger forces. Adolescents, in order to be normal, succumb to forces larger than themselves in order to fit the mold determined by others for them. Biology Functioning or occurring in a natural way; lacking observable abnormalities or deficiencies.[4]Heterosexual [5] This particular OED definition would not necessarily be accepted today; in a world where normal oscillates so frequently and easily, heterosexuality is not the norm; it is instead considered one of several options. Being at right angles; perpendicular.[6] This represents a different take on the definition of normal; while fitting in could be likened unto parallel lines (going in the same direction forever), this mathematical definition highlights the possibilities of standing out from peers and still being considered “normal” by some definition. Perpendicular lines intersect; they have a point in common. But, they do not follow each other. In order to be normal, Adolescents do not necessarily need to conform to a norm. They can stand perpendicular to a norm and still have a point or points in common with society.

Normalcy in Society

Subjectivity of Normal

Given that normality is determined by parameters set by society, the essence of what is normal is a reflection of specific and chosen societal values. “A person’s mental model of ‘what is normal?’ is tremendously influenced by how society and its institutions define ‘normal.”[7] Whenever a standard for normality is formed, members of the society that create this standard are encouraged to conform to the standard. However, being normal can have both positive and negative connotations. Those who strive to be normal see it as something admirable and desirable. Contrarily, the people who are trying to escape normal see normality as a bad thing—they tend to see normality as something like a disease; the farther you are from this normal the better off you’ll be. Becoming more normal can then either be a social gain or a social loss, depending on the perspective of the individual. Because different societies determine different standards of what is normal, the definition from the 1640s (referring to right angles) is only accurate inasmuch as each society determines on its own the number of degrees that make up a right angle.

Pop Culture Influence of Normal

Pop culture is very influencial in determining what is accepted as normal in regard to trends in music, fashion, slang, technology, etc. Celebrities and media gurus are the determining factors of what is hip, accessible, and normal. Often, what is most popular is what is determined to be normal. This adherence to accepting what is most popular as normal is evident in trends among peer groups. For example, if everyone at school owns an iPhone (possibly because pop culture has informed them that “everyone” owns an iPhone), owning an iPhone would be considered the norm, and even a necessity. Those without iPhones would remain a step away from being wholly normal and accepted.

Parents play a huge role as mediators between their children and society. They should reinforce the notion that there are many mindsets about how normal can be defined as they raise their children to accept their differences from others as a positive part of their identity. Parents are encouraged to counsel and nurture their teens to create their own sense of what is normal for them, and not rely too heavily on peer groups and pop culture for affirmation. A common worry that some adults and even researchers worry that popular books about self-harm may encourage individuals to believe that’s a normal teenager experience that they’re allowed to have. However, these types of books could also be beneficial to teens. “It is also possible—indeed, likely—that books focusing on pathologies help normalize them and, in the case of self-harm, may even spread their plausibility and likelihood to young people who might otherwise never have imagined such extreme measures.”[8]
Normal in Psychology

The words “normal” and “abnormal” pop up frequently in the world of psychology. Anything deviant from the standard of “normal” is considered “abnormal” and a lot of the time has the connotation of “unhealthy.” Doctors, therapists, and the likes make it a goal to get their patients back into the “normal” range that they’ve constructed.

It has been pointed it out that it is impossible for a person to be within the “normal” range set by doctors and psychologists in every single thing. If we are to go off of this belief, then there is no living person who is purely “normal.” Therefore, to refer back to the 1640 definition of “normal,” there is no universally defined right angle.

Dr. Eric Maisel, a psychotherapist, states that our world’s view of what is healthy and normal is skewed.

It is reasonable to say that if you contract tuberculosis or manifest cancer you have gone from a healthier state to an unhealthier state. But it is not reasonable to say, for instance, that it is ‘healthy’ for you to suffer no ill affects from killing unarmed civilians and ‘unhealthy’ of you to experience distressing consequences. Yes, in the latter case you are suffering; but PTSD in this instance is not like cancer. In this case, it may in fact amount to the healthy (and nevertheless extremely distressing) functioning of your conscience. This PTSD may in fact be proof that you are healthy, proof, that is, that you are a person with a functioning conscience, rather than proof of any ‘unhealthiness.’[9]

It is not common for someone to have PTSD, but it could be considered to be normal to have PTSD if you were exposed to certain circumstances. Looking at normal from a psychological angle, we can again see that normal doesn’t have a solid meaning. What is considered “normal” and what is considered “abnormal” is dependent on specific circumstances.

Physical Influence of Normal

One challenge which targets young adults specifically is puberty and the accompanying “abnormalities” that occur. While these changes are natural and expected, teenagers may view these changes as more causes of abnormality compared to the way their peers mature and the way adults appear. A possible reason why teenagers tend to pursue normality is because the pursuit of normalcy could be a means of coping with emerging hormones. Emotions, their bodies, their tastes, their ideas, etc. are all constantly changing within this period. If teens can maintain their social position in society then they can find some stability. With such drastic physical changes, self-conscious teens have even more pressure to be normal.

Girls’ concerns might include: looking different than classmates, being treated differently because of an ‘older’ appearance, being the object of attention from older boys, and lacking skills to cope with that attention. This can result in having to cope with situations beyond their emotional and cognitive abilities. Boys who mature early may be subject to similar concerns as girls. Their physical appearance may not match their maturity level in other areas resulting in them being in situations they aren’t prepared for emotionally or cognitively. For boys, concerns may be more about delayed development.[10]

Because of so much physical, emotional, and social change teenagers want to find a foundation and that often is manifest in their need to be “normal.”
Using Normal to Define Yourself

Normalcy is as a touchstone for personal identity. You define yourself with or against what is considered to be normal. Oftentimes people assume that transitioning to adulthood means you have found yourself. In adulthood, it is assumed that you are comfortable with your own identity and who you are. Rather than trying to belong to any certain group, there is an assumption that adults don’t want to belong or fit in anymore because they are happy with who they are. They are their own normal. While it is not true that every adult is perfectly comfortable with him or herself, it is true that adulthood comes with a gradual understanding that not only do different societies construct different definitions of ‘normal,’ but different people can too. We can define ourselves however we deem it appropriate, and there is always a place for us in this world.

Influence of Normal in YA Literature

Young adult (YA) literature corresponds with the subjective nature of normal. In YA literature, the tension between escapists and conformers of normality incites much of the action. In YA literature, those who are abnormal are often viewed either negatively as social outcasts, or positively as exceptional rebels idealized for breaking out of social norms. At the same time, many novels explore the pressure teens feel to conform to normal. Just as what is normal in real life depends on the perimeters set up by a particular society, what is considered normal in YA literature also depends on the setting of the story. For example, in fantasy books it can be normal to either practice or not practice magic, depending on which society the character belongs to. Though magical powers would not be considered normal in our society, in a fictional society it could be considered normal.

Rejecting Normal

Normal in literature can often be considered boring and wasteful. Some YA literature focuses on teens breaking out of social and cultural expectations – or “normal” situations – to become abnormal in some way because, in these novels, abnormal is exciting; abnormal contributes to the world.

“Normal is standard, regular or typical. In other words, it’s boring. Normal doesn’t make for entertaining anecdotes or an interesting life. If anyone were to write my biography, I’m thankful that no one reading it would slowly drift off to sleep. Yes, it’s been difficult and quite challenging at times, but I contend that really, no one’s life is totally normal. There are just people in this world who do a better job of hiding things than others.”[11]

Young adult literature seems to challenge a mentality of needing to belong, illustrating the joy and growth in self-worth that comes in the exploration of the world. Other teenagers have a natural tendency to want to fight the idea of normal and therefore, become their own individual. This search for identity in YA literature can manifest itself in conflicts regarding rebellion, literal and symbolic journeys, disagreement with parents, rejection of expectations, and the loss of friends. Usually, protagonists have a positive outcome in their choosing individuality over normalcy.
Wanting to be Normal

Being normal is often a principle conflict in YA novels because fitting in and belonging to a group can be critical to a teen’s identity and consequently their happiness. Side conflicts that demonstrate a teen’s desire to be normal involve self-esteem struggles, bullying, the fight for independence, participating in acceptable activities, following trends (physically and socially), and searching to find friends.

Books about Normal

  1. Wonder, by Raquel J. Palacio
  2. Uglies, by Scott Westerfield
  3. Star Girl, by Jerry Spinelli
  4. The Princess Diaries, by Meg Cabot
  5. Prom, Lauren Halsie Anderson

Works Cited

  1. Jump up “Online Etymology Dictionary.” Online Etymology Dictionary. Web. 07 Mar. 2016.
  2. Jump up “normal, adj. and n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, December 2015. Web. 7 March 2016.
  3. Jump up Wikipedia contributors. “Normal mode.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 18 Jan. 2016. Web. 7 Mar. 2016.
  4. Jump up “Normal.” American Heritage Dictionary. Web. 07 Mar. 2016.
  5. Jump up normal, adj. and n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, December 2015. Web. 7 March 2016.
  6. Jump up “Normal.” American Heritage Dictionary. Web. 07 Mar. 2016.
  7. Jump up Maisel, Eric R. “What Do We Mean by ‘Normal’?” Psychology Today. 15 Nov. 2011. Web. 07 Mar. 2016.
  8. Jump up Gurdon, Meghan Cox. “Darkness Too Visible.” The Wall Street Journal. 4 June 2011. Web. 07 Mar. 2016.
  9. Jump up Maisel, Eric R. “What Do We Mean by ‘Normal’?” Psychology Today. 15 Nov. 2011. Web. 07 Mar. 2016.
  10. Jump up Gengler, Colleen. “What’s Normal for Teen Development?” Univeristy of Minnesota. Web. 7 Mar. 2016.
  11. Jump up Palumbo, Jennifer. “The Myth of Being Normal.” The Huffington Post. 13 Dec. 2014. Web. 07 Mar. 2016.