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Section 2
Popularity Perceptions

Question 2 | Test | Table of Contents

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In the last section, we discussed four factors related to the concept and development of cliques.  These four factors are, the significance of cliques to adolescents, the development of cliques, girls’ cliques, and boys’ cliques.

In this section, we will discuss four myths of popularity.  These four myths are, popularity equals happiness, popularity gives people self-confidence, popular students have more friends and better friendships, and everyone likes popular people.

Remember Louise from the last section? Louise stated, "I used to be popular and have lots of friends. I guess I must have changed.  Nobody likes me. I’m so worthless now!" Because Louise was equating popularity with self worth, I decided to review with Louise some common myths about popularity.

4 Myths of Popularity

♦ Myth # 1 - Popularity Equals Happiness
I explained to Louise that there tend to be four common myths about popularity that can make students who perceive themselves as ‘unpopular’ speak in negative terms about their self-worth or value as a person. The first of these myths is that popularity equals happiness.

I stated to Louise, "It usually seems like popular students are having a terrific time. But what appears on the surface isn’t always true.  Popularity isn’t a sure thing, and popular students often feel a lot of pressure to remain popular, which means they may end up acting in ways that make them uncomfortable. Popular students may do things they don’t really want to do, because they are afraid they will lose their popularity. Living with fear like that can often make popular students pretty miserable."

♦ Myth # 2 - Popularity Gives People Self-Confidence
A second myth about popularity is that popularity gives people self-confidence. I stated to Louise, "It often looks from the outside like popular people have amazing self-confidence. But usually, the popular students have just as many insecurities and problems as their peers.  Because popular students often work hard to present the confident image they feel pressured to maintain, they may be less likely to discuss their fears and problems with friends. Sometimes, this tendency for popular students to keep fears and insecurities a secret can do as much damage to self-esteem as being excluded from the popular crowd."

♦ Myth # 3 - Popular Students have More Friends
In addition to the myths that popularity equals happiness, and that popularity gives people self confidence, a third myth about popularity is that popular students have more friends and better friendships.  Pilar, age 17, came to see me four months after her family moved from New York City to the Midwest. Pilar, who had all the latest trendy clothes from New York, and a lot of street savvy, was instantly embraced by the popular crowd. 

Pilar stated, "I had girls flocking to me, imitating my clothes and my hair. Some of them even started talking with a little Dominican accent. But, I’m really lonely, even though I always have people around me at school. No one here seems to care about the real me, they just care about my look. There’s no depth to my friendships. I feel like an accessory, but I’m scared of not being popular too."

♦ Myth # 4 - Everybody Likes Popular People
A fourth myth about popularity is that everybody likes popular people. I stated to Louise, "Being truly well liked is something that has to be earned.  It comes from caring about other people, taking a genuine interest in others, and being confident in your own abilities.Think about one of the popular girls in your new school. Do people really like who she is, or do they just like the external factors that make her popular? Do you think these friends would stick by her if this external factor changed?"

Louise stated, "I guess I see what you mean. Judy used to be real popular. She worked at the movie theatre, and she’d let all her friends in to see R movies for free. But when her manager caught on, Judy had to stop letting them in for free, and a lot of people stopped talking to her.  She isn’t popular anymore." Think of your Louise. Would inviting him or her to reflect on popularity be helpful?

Technique: "Icebreakers"
I suggested to Louise that she might try making a list of people at her school she was interested in as potential friends. I then introduced Louise to the "Icebreakers" technique. I stated, "If you feel excluded from the popular cliques, finding just one or two friends at school can make a big difference. An important first step is to go to events and places where students like to hang out."

Several sessions later, Louise stated, "Well, I felt funny because no one invited me, but I started going to all of the Varsity games. It’s just hard to actually talk to people while I’m there. I want to sound cool and laid back, but I can never think of anything that wouldn’t make me sound like a total loser."

I stated to Louise, "Sometimes it’s a good idea to have some icebreakers pre-prepared for you to use. Rehearsing these icebreakers in front of a mirror can help you always have something ready to use that sounds natural and confident."

I often encourage my clients to wait for a convenient time to approach a potential friend when he or she is alone.Often, approaching a group may be too intimidating for a client who perceives him or herself as an outsider. I stated to Louise, "you might want to wait until you can walk up to someone when he or she is standing at the lockers, or waiting to talk to a teacher.  Then, you can use one of your already prepared icebreakers."

2 Easy Fall Back Statements
I explained to Louise that there are two easy fall back statements for the Icebreakers technique. 
-- 1. Compliments. A first easy icebreaker is compliments. I stated, "Finding part of someone’s look to compliment is always a good way to approach someone. If the girl ahead of you in line is wearing an awesome skirt, saying simply, ‘great skirt, where’d you get it?’ can jumpstart a great conversation."
-- 2. Be Honest. A second easy icebreaker clients can prepare a head of time is being honest.  I stated to Louise, "Sometimes, a simple approach is the best. So, if you’re feeling tongue-tied, the best thing to do might be to admit it. Walk up to someone who looks friendly and say, ‘hi, I’m feeling kind of weird, I don’t know anyone here.’"

Think of your Louise. Would having some pre-rehearsed icebreakers on hand be helpful to him or her? Would listening to this section be beneficial

In this section, we have discussed four myths of popularity. These four myths are, popularity equals happiness, popularity gives people self confidence, popular students have more friends and better friendships, and everyone likes popular people.

In the next section, we will discuss six components of relational aggression. These six components are, looks, differences, the gay issue, conceit, exclusion, rumors, and the label ‘slut’.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Dawes, M., & Xie, H. (2014). The role of popularity goal in early adolescents’ behaviors and popularity status. Developmental Psychology, 50(2), 489–497.

Dijkstra, J. K., Cillessen, A. H. N., & Borch, C. (2013). Popularity and adolescent friendship networks: Selection and influence dynamics. Developmental Psychology, 49(7), 1242–1252.

Xie, H., Dawes, M., Wurster, T. J., & Shi, B. (2013). Aggression, academic behaviors, and popularity perceptions among boys of color during the transition to middle school. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 83(2-3), 265–277.

What are four myths of popularity?
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Section 3
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