Friday, November 14, 2008

The Popularity Scale

Lindsay Lohan in the movie "Mean Girls" demonstrates the stereotypical view of popularity in a high school setting with a few semi-realistic twists. However, an interesting piece in the NYTimes a while back about looked at the real lives of teenagers and how one's place on the popularity scale during adolescence affects their social standing in the future, and perhaps their health. Where were you on the popularity scale?
The cult of popularity that reigns in high school can look quaint from a safe distance, like your 20th reunion. By then the social order may have turned over like an hourglass: teenagers who were socially invisible have emerged as colorful characters, confident, transformed. Others seem preserved in time, same as ever, while some former princes and queen bees are diminished or simply absent, now invisible themselves.
For years researchers focused much attention on those prominent teenagers, tracking their traits and behaviors. The studies found, to no one’s surprise, that social dominance in adolescence often involves an aggressive, selfish streak that may not play well outside the locker-lined corridors.
The cult disbands, and the rules change.
Yet high school students know in their gut that popularity is far more than a superficial, temporary competition, and in recent years psychologists have confirmed that intuition. The newer findings suggest that adolescents’ niche in school — their popularity, and how they understand and exploit it — offers important clues to their later psychological well-being.
Not too surprisingly, the kids who were the most 'social' in high school seem to do better in the long run, since a social person will (should?) always be well-liked in society, but one can only be a prom/homecoming queen once. Besides, having social skills is marketable asset. From a medicine standpoint, I wonder if more attention should be paid to such social trends by adolescent psychiatrists. Furthermore, if one can identify kids at risk, those at the lowest rungs, how does one approach them? Try to teach them social skills? Put them in an environment where they are better able to socialize? I think there will always be an "in" group and an "out" group among adolescents but the key here needs to be to identify the teens who are at risk for having a poor self-image and low self-worth, regardless of how 'popular' they seem to be, and then find a way to help them grow and achieve a lasting sense of self-worth.

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