Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sue Scheff: Pitfalls of Popularity

"Part of fitting in and part of being popular is that teenagers who are popular tend to engage in a lot of behaviors that are valued by their peers. Some are good and some are not so good.”

– Marla Shapiro, licensed psychologist

“We didn’t get in until like, really late, so as soon as we got there we went right out,” 18-year-old Candler Reed says, filling her mom in on the details of her weekend.

Candler goes to a lot of parties; she has a lot of friends. For Candler Reed, being popular has its perks. “Having things to do on the weekends, having a very wide circle of friends,” she says.

But it also has its pitfalls. “My social life was first freshman through junior year, that was my first priority, even over my school work.”

She was less likely to do homework, and according to a recent study by the University of Virginia, popular teens, like Candler, are three times more likely to experiment with risky behaviors than their unpopular counterparts.

“Teenagers who are popular tend to engage in a lot of behaviors that are valued by their peers. Some are good and some are not so good,” explains Marla Shapiro, licensed psychologist.

For Candler it was drinking, something her mom was not happy with, “It was disappointing to find out that she was not always where she said she was or doing what she said she was doing.”

Experts say, with popular teens especially, this can be surprising for parents. “We think that oh, our kids are popular, they’re well liked, they get along well with us, they’re doing well, we can relax, these are what you call good kids, and I think the message for parents would be- you can’t ever let your guard down,” explains Shapiro.

Setting a strict curfew, knowing her friends, keeping in constant touch are just a few of the things that worked well for Candler and her mom. “It’s definitely gotten better now, now that we’ve gotten more involved with her life,” explains her mom.

“It’s made me learn, I learned from my mistakes, the mistakes I have made probably trying to be cool and fit in,” says Candler.

Tips for Parents
Many people believe students who are popular set the trends and take the lead in regards to making decisions. However, popular students are just as susceptible to peer pressure as other students – and sometimes more so, because they don’t want to become unpopular or lose their status.

When students – popular or not – are pressured by others to do certain things or go certain places, it can be very stressful. Experts at the Do It Now Foundation suggest the following things to consider to ease the decision-making process:

Identify the problem
Describe possible solutions or alternatives
Evaluate the ideas
Act out a plan
Learn for the future (have reactions in place for certain scenarios)
Being a popular student can be a very enviable position, but for some students it can also be a burden. The possibility of bad influences or advice is increased as more and more people surround an individual. Therefore, it is important for parents of popular children to encourage them to be responsible and develop good decision-making skills, particularly when it comes to comes to deciding what things are more important than others. Experts at Omaha Boys Town Pediatrics suggest the following tips for parents who are concerned with the friends surrounding their children and the influences they have may have on them:

Spend time together – Recent studies indicate that children who feel close to their parents are less likely to be negatively influenced by others.
Use opportunities to teach your children – Some of the time you spend with your children should be used to discuss problems and concerns they might face. These discussions give you an opportunity to offer advice and reinforce your family's morals and values.
Listen carefully to what your children say – Talk with them instead of at them.
Monitor what your children are doing – Keep track of them, watch over them and have them check in and report where they are, who they're with, and what they're doing.
Do It Now Foundation
Omaha Boys Town Pediatrics
University of Virginia