Teen Popularity and Why Your Teen Could Be Acting Out Because Of It

Teen popularity
Teens have a host of life questions that they’re trying to understand and address. In the famous psychologist’s Erik Erickson’s stages of development, he talks about how teens are trying to answer questions like:

  • “Who am I?”
  • “What is important to me?”
  • “Where do I fit in?”

Keeping this developmental stage in mind, this article will help you understand why teenagers value popularity, types of popularity, and why your teen might be acting because of it. However, some teens may need additional assistance in breaking out of these social cycles when they become defiant, begin bullying or acting out.

Teen Popularity: Finding Where You Fit

Because two of the questions that teens are trying to understand for themselves include “Who am I?” and “Where do I fit?”, it makes sense, then, that popularity is at the forefront of their minds and social life. Popularity makes them aware of the fact that there is a social hierarchy and that they will need to find their place within that hierarchy.
So, popularity is one way that teens come to answer these life-changing questions.

3 Types of Popularity Amongst Teens

Within the realm of who’s popular, there are certain tendencies that are prominent. In a research study done by the Society for Research in Child Development, researchers found that there are three main types of popularity amongst teens.

#1. Aggressive Popularity

Some teens achieve popularity by engaging in aggressive tactics. Teens who are aggressive tend to win others through their aggression rather than by being kind, collaborative, and caring.
Here are a list of ways that these teens gain their popularity:

  • Treating other teens badly
  • Yelling, cursing, and intimidating other teens
  • Bullying and cyberbullying other teens
  • Blackmailing other teens
  • Humiliating other teens
  • Forcing friendships

With aggressive popularity, it may be subtle or blatant but overall, it will be noticeably disturbing for the teen on the receiving end.

#2. Prosocial Popularity

With prosocial popularity, a lot of it centers on collaboration and being willing to work with others. This type of popularity has its positive and negative aspects.
The positives of prosocial popularity

  • A teen learns how to work with others in order to reach a goal
  • A teen learns that collaboration is valued in many places
  • A teen learns to sympathize and empathize with others

The negatives of prosocial popularity

  • A teen learns that collaboration is only for achieving one’s goal; in this case, becoming popular
  • A teen ultimately cares about themselves since the goal is to be popular
  • A teen might engage in harmful and destructive behaviors in order to be liked by others
  • The goal might be destructive (e.g. working with others to be defiant in the classroom).

#3. Bistrategic Popularity

Bistrategic popularity is the last form of popularity. This type of popularity is a mixture of aggressive and prosocial types. For example, a teen who engages in bistrategic popularity might force their peers to do something that they want, but then “reward” that peer with a kind/approving comment.

Bistrategic popularity has the pros and cons associated with prosocial behavior while maintaining a safe but close distance to aggression.

Shake up the hierarchy of teen popularity

You can shake up the hierarchy of popularity by talking to your teen and by recognizing when they’re acting out. Here are some things to talk to your teen about:

  • Ask your teen what they think of when they hear of the word popularity. Encourage them to be honest. Explore the terms that they mention.
  • If you notice that your teen is acting out in more aggressive, prosocial or aggressive ways, encourage them to think about how their behavior impacts others. Ask them, “Do people really like people who are ultimately only self-concerned?”

If your troubled teen continues to act out, consider therapy or a therapeutic boarding school where hierarchies are questioned and characters are built.

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