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Why Do Teenagers Act Like Class Clowns?

by Erin Schreiner, studioD

Peer- or self-labeled class clowns might appear to have one goal -- to get classmates laughing -- but the motivation that leads a child to become a class clown is complex. Whether you are trying to help your child deal with a class clown or your child has taken up the role, understanding what makes class clowns act as they do is the first step.

Attention Starved

In a room full of 25 students, getting the teacher’s attention is challenging. While some students can handle receiving a small portion of the instructor’s focus, others require more. A student who needs extra attention might become a class clown because acting out gets the teacher’s attention. The reason behind this child’s need for additional attention could be natural -- some children simply require more attention. There could, however, be a deeper issue at play. If the child is not given attention at home, he might need more of it at school. Similarly, if the child is dealing with complex emotions stemming from abuse or neglect, he might also experience an increase need for attention.

Poor Socialization Skills

When asked to catalog the popular kids, most students would include the class clown on the list. Because this student so frequently steals attention, peers and faculty likely know his name, making him seem one of the more popular pupils. In truth, however, class clowns often lack socialization skills and might not feel confident in his ability to make friends. Some class clowns act as they do because it is the only way they know how to interact with their peers, suggests William Watson Purkey, a social scientist who conducted a 2006 study on the phenomenon of the class clown. Because these students don’t know how to form healthy bonds, they act out, forcing others to notice them.

Hidden Academic Struggles

Why is the class clown never on task? The obvious answer to this question would be that he is too busy regaling his peers with his antics to focus on academics. The true answer, however, might be that he lacks the skills necessary to complete the work. Many class clowns struggle with academic concepts and, in an attempt to hide their inabilities, focus their attention on disrupting the class. By doing so, they can make it appear as if they aren’t working simply because they don’t want to, not because they can’t.


For students academically advanced students, acting out as a class clown might be a remedy for boredom. As Ruth Sidney Charney, author of “Teaching Children to Care,” states at Responsiveclassroom.com that some students who are chronically under-challenged elect to take on the role of class clown. If your child or his peer is making the grades but still acting out, this could be a reason for his continued disruption.

About the Author

Erin Schreiner is a freelance writer and teacher who holds a bachelor's degree from Bowling Green State University. She has been actively freelancing since 2008. Schreiner previously worked for a London-based freelance firm. Her work appears on eHow, Trails.com and RedEnvelope. She currently teaches writing to middle school students in Ohio and works on her writing craft regularly.

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