The Glennie School

We all worry about friendships, play dates, birthday parties, who’s in and who’s out. Sometimes we worry more than our children do. We want them to be happy and enjoy having lots of friends. We are sad when they fall out with friends and anxious when they make a friend we are doubtful about. Popularity is a minefield, for parents as well as children.

While many friendships don’t last long when we are young, the effects of popularity, or lack of it, can endure a lifetime. If you’re popular, you’re given more opportunities to practise social skills or gain access to new information. The flip side is that unpopular kids don’t get the same advantages.

When it comes in the form of likability and making others feel included and welcomed, popularity leads to good outcomes. Adolescents, however, tend to admire being cool, visible, influential and dominant, and kids who trade on status may vie for it as adults and fail to develop other important skills. As a result, they may be more likely to experience depression, anxiety, relationship difficulties or addiction.

Here are some thoughts about how you can help your children develop the right kind of skills. Of course, we need to model this to them as parents and ensure that we, too are seeking the right kind of popularity.

Move the focus away from status.
Stop liking, liking, liking, and counting your likes. Ask questions that encourage children to target real, quality friends rather than fly-by-nights. Offline, don’t convey to your kids that they need to be in a particular club or clique, rather that it is the quality of their friendships that is important. When you focus on ephemeral popularity, they won’t learn how to identify healthy, reciprocal relationships.

Address their desire for popularity.
When children are unhappy with their place in the pecking order, offer extra love, acknowledge their feelings and share your values. You can’t persuade them to not care, but you can try to understand why this matters to them. Remind them what they’d lose if they sacrificed their existing friendships to pursue popularity.

It’s difficult when a child wants to be popular, and there are no easy answers. Adults can point out that the most popular kids may also be lonely and lack trusting reliable friendships. We can never know what is really happening in others’ lives.

Focus on what they can control, such as being kind.
In every community, there are things that make you popular. If it’s a wealthy community, it might have to do with your level of wealth. If it’s a religious community, it might be about your parents’ status in the religion. You can teach skills that will make a child more likeable, but helping them attain status is trickier. By encouraging them to focus on what they can control, including being kind, you’ll increase the odds that they land the right friends.

Turn outward to find new friends and activities.
There’s a primal social impulse to be part of the pack, but children thrive when they think less about themselves and more about others. If your daughter comes home and says, ‘No one likes me’ or ‘Everyone is walking to lunch without me,’ turn the tables. Encourage them to invite that new student to lunch or to tutor a younger student. When kids transcend the self, they feel empowered and confident. Engaging in something bigger than themselves also helps them stop ruminating about unreturned Snapchats or their social position.

Cultivate good matches.
The unspoken rule of adolescence is that you’re supposed to interact with the people closest to you in the social hierarchy. The culture may value physical attractiveness or athletic ability, but your child may thrive in a setting that values academic achievement or community service. Look for activities that align with your child’s interests. Your child’s teachers and counsellors can suggest good friend matches, pair them on projects and reinforce social skills.

Teach them the skills they need to be more likeable.
Help struggling kids practise basic skills such as asking questions. Help them focus on connecting instead of impressing. Encourage children to identify common ground. If you’re talking about something that only pertains to you, it’s irrelevant to the friendship. Are they wearing a shirt from a music group you like? Did they watch the same football game last night?

Some children may not know how to join a conversation. Show them how to slide into action without interrupting, and match the emotional tone of the group. When we look at videos of children who end up being the most liked, they listen to others and try to build on and shape what they’re doing instead of saying ‘No, that’s stupid, let’s do it this way’.

Learn from children who change often.
Children from some business families may move several times during their school years. Other students can learn from their openness. They may be more likely to approach a stranger in a crowded common room or to appreciate positivity over status. These children have figured out what works for them. They’re not trying to find a forever friend or a best friend. There’s a freedom to take risks on new friendships when you live in the moment. When the goal is to befriend people who are nice, the burden of popularity is lifted.

The best antidote to craving the wrong friends is finding the right ones and parents can help by offering transport or making their home welcoming.

Acknowledgement: Seven steps parents can take to ensure kids work for the right kind of popularity by Phyllis Fagell.

Mrs Jo Matherson
Deputy Principal

Posted with permission
Original article published here