Fitting in and making friends is a top priority for teens as they head back to
Self-worth analyst, Karen Eddington, explains how teens can avoid
popularity contests and build positive friendships, instead.
We asked teens and mothers across Utah what their biggest struggles and
questions were in terms of social popularity.
“What exactly does it mean when someone is popular? I think we all define
it differently at school.” -Amber
The dictionary is going to define popularity in terms of being well liked,
widely accepted, or suitable to the majority. Teens are going to simple
define it individually as the person or group who is getting the most
attention at school. Even further, the one thing that every popular person
has is common, is they believe in their ability to influence other
We can also break popularity down into two levels. Popularity can focus on
being exclusive which often leaves people out, segregates
people, and it is
usually rooted in insecurities. Popularity can also have a leadership focus
where it is rooted in positive ways to influence other people. What we want
our teens to see and feel is that they can make a positive difference. We
don’t have to build ourselves up by putting others down.
“What can I do to be more popular?” -Ashley
Initially teens look at this question and think that it comes down to learning
how to be cool. We have cool words, cool clothing and cool activities.
Popularity is not about conforming to the latest “cool” thing. It is about
authentically standing up for our values without fear of ridicule. Why
should we teach this? Again if we look at what popular individuals have in
common, they believe in their ability to influence other people. They are
not the ones scrambling to be like everyone else. To Ashley, and the many
others with this same question, find something you believe in (from
treating others kindly to a new favorite color of nail polish) and share it.
Not frantically, but share authentically. Sit by someone at lunch, wear
something you like even if it not is style, or stand up for people even if no
one else around you is.
Question3: comes from a parent
“What is my responsibility as a mother when I see my daughter struggle
with a friendship that is not genuine?” – Holly
This mom is actually on the right track because a mother’s responsibility
can be simple put into four words: be her support network. If
you have a
son, be his support network. Be there to talk. Be there to see that
a struggle going on. Here are some tools for Holly as she is her daughters
support network. Remember that teens crave independence and
opportunities to make their own decisions. As you have conversations
about your daughter’s friends do it in a way that respects her ability to
make choice. This could be done by helping her recognize that the
friendship is harmful versus you telling her the friendship is harmful. How
you address her can impact how defensive she is going to get about it.
Instead of giving an opinion like, “I don’t like your friend”, try offering a
question like, “how do you feel when your friend leaves you out?”
“It seems like the only guys that get attention at school are football players.
What can I do to fit in if I am not part of this group?” James
Every school seems to label people in terms of: the jocks, the cheerleaders,
the cowboys, the preps, the stoners, the band, etc. Social groups are a
natural part of adolescence and sometimes that means we develop cliques
and people get left out. It seems that we all need to know what it feels like
to be excluded. The real test is how we react when we feel left out. To
James, you can react like a leader the next time you are feeling left out.
Look around at the social circles you do have, even if it is your family, or
find ways to create new friendships. Know that you are not the only person
who is feeling excluded. As you remember what it is like to feel excluded,
you can help others so they don’t have to feel alone. Take time to look for
that other person feeling left out.
“How can I stop worrying about what other people think?” -Georgina
Look at when we first started to become self-conscious. In kindergarten
we respond to questions and often participate without reservation.
Something seems to happen when we are in 4th and 5th grade where we
start to notice the hierarchy and the opinions of people around us. Junior
High often becomes the peak of our social worries and although it can get
better sometimes it never really seems to go away. Many of us are walking
around with a constant worry of what other people think. There is going to
come a time for all of us we learn for ourselves that our worth is not based
in what other people think. It feels like the end of the world if we are
embarrassed, or say the wrong thing, or wear the wrong clothes. The best
thing we can do is to let it be okay to be embarrassed. Make it okay to
stand out. Take away the extreme values we put on the opinions of others.
You can follow Dr Suess’s advice, “Be who you are and say what you feel
because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
Karen Eddington is a Self-Worth Analyst and has spent over ten years
researching women and teens. She is the author of Today, I Live and
directs many community outreach programs on self-esteem. For more
information you can go to