kitchen table math, the sequel: why you don't want your child to be popular

Friday, January 25, 2013

why you don't want your child to be popular

More from Why You Truly Never Leave High School:
In 2007, for instance, Steinberg and two colleagues surveyed hundreds of adolescents in two midwestern communities, asking them to decide which category they most identified with: Jocks, Populars, Brains, Normals, Druggie/Toughs, Outcasts, or None. They also asked a subsample of those kids to make the same assessment of their peers. Then they compared results.

Some were predictable. The kids who were identified as Druggies, Normals, or Jocks, for example, tended to see themselves in the same way. What was surprising was the self-assessment of the kids others thought were popular. Just 27 percent in one study and 37 in a similar, second study in the same paper saw themselves as campus celebrities. Yes, a few declared themselves Jocks, perhaps just as prestigious. But more were inclined to view themselves either as normal or none of the above.

Faris’s research on aggression in high-school students may help account for this gap between reputation and self-­perception. One of his findings is obvious: The more concerned kids are with popularity, the more aggressive they are. But another finding isn’t: Kids become more vulnerable to aggression as their popularity increases, unless they’re at the very top of the status heap. “It’s social combat,” he explains. “Think about it: There’s not much instrumental value to gossiping about a wallflower. There’s value to gossiping about your rivals.” The higher kids climb, in other words, the more precariously balanced they feel, unless they’re standing on the square head of the totem pole. It therefore stands to reason that many popular kids don’t see themselves as popular, or at least feel less powerful than they loom. Their perch is too fragile.

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