Pop culture often depicts teenagers in various states of competition to win the campus popularity contest. Homecoming court, student elections, theater tryouts and invites to informal social gatherings all help students ascertain their popularity level among classmates. Given the complexity of the teenage social network, parents should avoid the stereotype that all teens crave popularity. Interest in social standing, including popularity, can reflect deeper concepts related to self-image and security.
Despite the negative cliches surrounding popular teens, popularity has benefits that appeal to teenagers outside of superficial campus stardom. Popular kids tend to be well adjusted compared to less-popular teens, with superior social skills, according to CBS News.com. They also tend to have better, stronger relationships with friends -- and also, their mothers. Classmates tend to view them as trendsetters, so popularity leads to social power around campus. Teens who appear to be craving popularity may be attracted to the polished, self-confident and socially secure characteristics that popular students exhibit.
Teens may actually be in hot pursuit of social acceptance rather than popularity. Social acceptance refers to the level at which peers have acknowledged a teen’s social standing, regardless of perceived popularity, according to Psych Central News. Teenagers with high levels of social acceptance, as measured by interviewing peers, tend to do well in school over time regardless of their popularity level. Social acceptance tends to crowd out negative behaviors, such as hostility, withdrawing or being avoided by peers. Not being social scientists themselves, teens may be confusing traditional popularity with the secure feeling of being accepted by peers.
Teens might think they crave popularity, but perceptions of personal popularity may matter more than reality, according to Psych Central News. Teens who feel good about themselves and their perceptions of their own popularity do better in school than students who perceive themselves as less popular, despite their actual popularity levels. This can have positive long-term effects, since positive self-perceptions can be self-fulfilling and can extend into adulthood.
If your teenager seems obsessed with popularity, consider discussing some of the negative attributes of popularity with her. More popular students often become involved with substances and sexual experimentation earlier than their less-popular peers. Maintaining a popular social status can create pressure, stress or anxiety. Popular students may feel compelled to portray themselves in a certain, socially acceptable way rather than engaging in authentic exploration of their identity as a young adult. If teens seem resistant to talking with a parent about this topic, ask a favorite aunt or family friend to lead the conversation. Parents can also examine their own intentions -- it could be that mom or dad is pressuring a teen to befriend the cool crowd.
- Psych Central News: Teens' Perception of Popularity is Important
- CBS News.com: The Price of Teen Popularity
- The Christian Science Monitor: The 'Mean Girls' Effect: Teenagers and the Quest for Popularity
- Evolutionary Psychology Journal: Popular Teenagers are More Aggressive and Sexually Active than Their Less Popular Peers
- The New York Times: Peeking at the Negative Side of High School Popularity
- American Psychological Association: Among Young Teens, Aggression Equals Popularity
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