I’m in middle schools and high schools almost every week. Just walking the halls, I’m reminded of the jockeying for position that is so much a part of teen social life. But popularity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, according to research reported on by Mitch Prinstein, PhD., in Psychology Today. Whereas being “popular” in earlier grades is linked to likability, in the teen years, it’s more a measure of status. Prinstein (who studies popularity and wrote a book about it), “adolescent brains start to become really tuned in to who is getting the most attention, who seems most powerful, influential, and who everyone else wants to look at the most.” Those popular kids actually are not very well liked! And years later they even have less positive life outcomes. The message, for those of use who were/are not in the “popular” group, is to be aware of the influence of popular kids…and the possibility of being manipulated by them. Having a few good friends who appreciate us is good enough! For the popular teen, it’s a good idea to do a “check” and see if likability is what’s driving popularity…or some of the darker things mentioned in the article.
Dr. Prinstein wrote “A Letter to Teens about the Science of Popularity” that would be great to pass on to your teen. Even better, read it to your teens out loud, and ask them what they think. It could lead to some great conversation, bonding, and increased understanding of your teen’s heart and the social world he or she inhabits every day.