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Popularity: Why kids think it’s cool to rule [Kids Today / USA Today]

by Hope Katz Gibbs
Kids Today / USA Today
Cover story
April 9, 1995

Some kids seem to always wear the right clothes, say the right thing, make the right squads and get all the right awards. They’re popular. Maybe you hate them. Or maybe you idolize them. Heck, maybe you are one of them.

Popularity is strange. You can’t touch it, smell it, buy it or sell it, but at school it’s something almost every kid wants. Especially at this time of years, when school elections and tryouts are going on, you may hear over and over, “It’s just a popularity contest.”

But what is popularity? Why do kids let it consume their lives?

“Popularity is in the mind of the beholder,” says Jeremiah Marble, 15, of Palm Bay, Fla. “Each person has a different definition of popularity. Some people want to be good (and well-liked) in sports, others at drama. Everyone-can be popular, it just depends on what they want to be popular at.”

Samantha Bain, 18 from Keedysville, Md., isn’t so sure. “I don’t know if I’m popular,” she says. “I mean, at lunch different groups sit together and where you sit indicates how popular you are.”

Martin Ford, a professor at George Mason University in Virginia, says there are a couple of reasons why kids over popularity. “The kids most worried about being ‘in’ often are insecure,” he says. “As a result, they seek approval from others. If they don’t get the feed-back they want, it can make them very anxious.”

In reality, if you think everyone hates you, it may all be in your head. Literally.

“When you hit puberty, around 12 or 14, your brain has developed a new skill , Ford says. “ You can think more abstractly and imagine what other people are thinking of you. Basically, you’re able to think about thinking.”

Ironically, the popular kids often don’t worry as much about what others think. Why? Because they have self-confidence.

And that’s really the big secret of popularity. The “cool kids” are cool because they say what they think, wear what they want to, and hang out with whomever they like. See, you don’t have to look like a movie star to be popular. Self-confidence is very attractive. So is kindness.

So here’s some advice from those who have been there—and survived. Be yourself. Smile at people in the halls—both those who are “in” and those who aren’t – and you’ll be amazed at the results.

“As long as you think you are popular,” Marble says, “and you are.”


More Kids Today / USA Today Articles

"I get by with a little help from my friends," says Hope, who gives special thanks to:

• MICHAEL GIBBS, website illustration and design: www.michaelgibbs.com
• MAX KUKOY, website development: www.maxwebworks.com
• STEVE BARRETT, portrait of Hope on Bio page: www.stevebarrettphotography.com

Contact HOPE KATZ GIBBS by phone [703-346-6975] or email.