We all remember how difficult it was for kids who didn’t fit in. Being popular is the single most important thing to most school-age children. The quest for it and the results of not having it, make popularity a powerful force that in many cases sculpt the way people live the rest of their lives.
Popular kids always have more power than the less popular. Popular boys are usually good athletes or wealthy and in many cases even bullies are popular. Popular girls are usually rich or physically attractive. Popular kids quickly get enamored with their power and make life extremely difficult for the unpopular.
Social Cliques start forming in middle school and being on the outside can be very difficult for unpopular kids. They struggle to be “cool” and the pressure on them is immense. Life can be miserable for them. The popular kids constantly remind them about how dorky or “uncool” they are and exclude them from the group. Some kids are terrified to go to school and there academics suffer as a result.
Many times the torment can go beyond name calling and exclusion. Physical school bullying is a serious problem in nearly every school and studies show that adults intervene only about 5% of the time. This means, that the unfortunate unpopular kids are left to fend for themselves. Strangely, there are a number of kids who would rather be bullied than be excluded completely. The allure of the popular kids is that strong.
Bullying goes beyond the simple pain of physical abuse and torments the victims in psychological ways. The results of this psychological torture presents itself in sometimes tragic ways – depression, poor academics, suicide and even murder can result. 75% of the school shootings in the last 10 years have involved kids who experienced bullying.
Anti-bullying programs need to start early to avoid the behaviors becoming ingrained. It’s important for teachers and any adults in the schools to be trained on stopping bullying, but it’s also important to train kids on bullying prevention. School age children think that adults don’t understand them, so peer-counseling to stop bullying is many times more effective.
The effects of social cruelty and popularity extend into adulthood. The trendy night club line is the perfect example. People who are dressed appropriately and are good looking get in. Many people who suffered as an un-popular kid are very successful in adulthood. People like Bill Gates channel the effects of social cruelty into being immensely successful adults, but some people are emotional scarred by it for life. Others continue to seek this popularity. Millions of dollars a year are spent on books and magazines about how to be popular.
What’s the answer? First of all, we need to focus our time and energy on bullying prevention in schools. No kid should have to suffer in fear and have their academic and social development comprised. However, being popular seems to be something ingrained in our very DNA – a powerful force that stays with us for life and affects everything that we say or do. That may not be something we have the ability to change.