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Who sets the norms? Based on these findings, cool/popular crowds establish the norms in middle school and in some small high schools. In large high schools many crowds exist, and the norms the leading crowd imposed in middle school continue to influence because they effect the sorting of students into crowds. Each crowd maintains a distinct package of norms and these influence the members' behavior.
How do crowds choose norms? Norms are partially inherited from earlier generations of the crowd and partially established by the current leaders and core members. Popular crowds define school wide norms in ways that it reinforces the popularity and authority of the crowd members. If insecure students are afraid of asserting their individuality, they will evaluate themselves by what the secure, confident students consider "cool." High school crowds tend to value the abilities, resources, and personality traits that the crowd's leadership has in common. Since crowd leaders exemplify the crowd's norms, self-serving bias of the leadership works to reinforce the popularity and authority of the crowd's leadership. Individuals tend to join crowds and cliques that have similar value systems to their own, so a crowd's size depends on the popularity of the normative system and identity that it exemplifies.
The views, values, and actions of the popular crowd, and its leadership represent powerful influences on the peer pressures all students endure.
Validating the Popularity of Others. Since the primary signal of a person's popularity is who one hangs out with, reputation as a popular person depends on "being allowed to hang out with them [one of the popular crowds]." As one respondent said, "If you're friends with popular people, you're considered more popular." Inviting someone from outside the crowd to a party or including them in lunchtime conversation may be small matter to a popular student, but it sometimes has an important positive demonstration effect on their reputation. This works for groups as well as individuals. If a clique interacts with a popular group, the clique's reputation improves.
Admission Rules. Around most popular crowds there are "wannabes" actively trying to join the crowd and potential "wannabes" who would try if they thought they had a reasonable chance of success. Crowd members control and limit entry. Often, core members of a clique have the additional power of blackballing potential entrants. For example, at one school, each member of a group was allowed to invite an outsider to sit at their lunch table several times a month, but they must meet at the lockers for other members to approve it first, and then they cannot exceed their limit. "We don't want other people at our table more than a couple of times a week because we want to bond and bonding is endless."
Attracting the Opposite Sex. Since cross-gender socializing often occurs in reasonably stable groups, male and female cliques often pair up. Thus, a new romantic relationship can help a student gain entry into a popular clique. This gives popular students a further edge in the competition for attention from the opposite sex.
Power Players and Dominance by Insult. Insults from high-status peers are more damaging to one's self-esteem and reputation than insults from low-status peers. Insults from unpopular students can be deflected by calling them names, like "dirt bag" or "low life," that give life to the way others at the school view them. Responses to taunts from popular students is more difficult. Insults are more effective when they target a vulnerability of one's opponent."' What aspect of the popular student's persona can the victim counter-attack? The popular person exemplifies what most of the victim's classmates respect.
Pariah Status. When an unpopular kid is harassed by an individual from the popular crowd, "Wannabes" and "posers" may view the incident as an opportunity to improve their status by insulting that victim. Individual popular students can wittingly or unwittingly single out specific students for harassment by others.
Normative Hegemony. The quickest way to change a school's peer norms is to persuade the leaders of the popular crowds that such a change is desirable. The student body is used to following their lead so if they advocate the change and adjust their own behavior to the new requirements others are likely to follow.
A distinction between membership in a popular crowd and the power of this crowd to set the normative environment of the school must be noted. In small schools, students interact with all class members, so popularity is based on one's history of interactions with classmates. However, in large schools students have only superficial contact with a significant portion of their grade, and even less contact with older and younger students. This is particularly true in large middle schools that combine students from different elementary schools. Inside the group one interacts with daily, status and popularity depend on the history of interactions between group members. One's social status and popularity outside this group, however, is defined by the stereotype assigned to one's crowd and the outsider's valuation of that stereotype. Crowd assignment occurs in the first weeks of middle school and is difficult to change. Conformity pressures and learning effects tend to generate contrast effects that make boundary crossing even more difficult.
Given the benefits of popular crowd membership, many students try to join one of them. By high school, however, many students at the schools studied had gotten tired of the dominance by insult game that was important in middle school. A Longview High School student said: "The people who used to make fun of other people don't anymore because it doesn't really matter. It's not important anymore... because everyone's kind of grown up and everyone's beyond that now."
- Bishop, John H., Bishop, Matthew, Bishop, Michael, Gelbwasser, Lara, Green, Shanna, Peterson, Erica, Rubinsztaj, Anna, Zuckerman, Andrew; Why We Harass Nerds and Freaks: A Formal Theory of Student Culture and Norms. Journal of School Health, Sep2004, Vol. 74, Issue 7
Reflection Exercise #7