Why Popularity Is So Important in Middle School and How to Navigate It 

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This article caught my eye because so many of my students talk about popularity, how it effects them and the challenges they face.  I was not popular in my school days. In fact, popular girls were the reason I didn’t enjoy my school days. I didn’t like them because they made me feel small and insignificant. But deep down inside I wanted to be like them. Oh, the irony.  

In today’s world, it’s no secret that children are under a lot of pressure to be popular. With social media, TV, and movies all sending the message that being popular is the most important thing, it’s no wonder kids are feeling the pressure.

But being popular doesn’t have to be the be-all and end-all for kids. There are ways to help them navigate the popularity scene without getting caught up in all the drama.

Happy reading  

Why Popularity Is So Important in Middle School and How to Navigate It 

author: Jessica Speer
When I ask students about the qualities of “popular” kids, their responses describe a diverse pattern of traits and behaviors. Some of these fall into pro-social behaviors, while others do not.

Research on popularity backs this up too. The popularity scene in adolescence is complex because there is more than one kind of popularity.

In his book, Popular – The Power of Likability in a Status Obsessed World, Dr. Mitch Prinstein describes two types of popularity: likability and status. Younger children learn and strive to be “likable,” which includes the traits of sharing, cooperating, and treating others with respect. 

Young children name peers with “likable” traits as the most popular. These tend to be the “nice” kids who act in friendly ways toward peers and handle conflict constructively.

The other form of popularity based on “status” emerges in early adolescence. The traits of “status” popularity include power, influence, and notoriety.

These tend to be the “cool” kids that are socially competent but not necessarily “kind.” The behaviors and traits associated with status popularity combine prosocial behaviors with antisocial behaviors like aggressiveness and social manipulation. Kids with this type of popularity tend to be admired but also feared.

During the preteen and early teen years, students name peers with “status” and “likable” peers as popular. Essentially, popularity gets more complex just as kids become more interested in it.

Likability vs. Status Popularity 

Concern over acceptance, rejection and popularity is at a maximum level for kids and their parents during middle school and early high school – a time when social instability rules. “The urge to be popular among peers reaches its zenith in adolescence,” explains Dr. Prinstein. Kids want to be seen and accepted, so the allure of popularity makes sense. 

However, the behaviors and traits associated with “likability,” such as cooperation and caring, help kids forge genuine relationships. Research finds that adolescents with “status” popularity are less likely to have satisfying friendships and romantic relationships later in life. They are also at higher risk for substance abuse problems. 

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