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Video: Popularity: Why do we care?

By “Today” contributor
updated 8/4/2006 12:24:06 PM ET 2006-08-04T16:24:06

What leads to self-confidence when you’re a teen girl? Is it volunteering experiences, befriending less popular kids, or involvement in sports? Or is feeling attractive (physically and personality-wise) or socially popular (IM’ing others and hanging around with kids on the weekends) more apt to set the stage for good teen self-esteem? Well, it’s probably some combination of the above. Suggesting to a tween or teen that social standing and popularity are unimportant will most likely be met with some commercial-grade eye-rolling.

As adults we realize that what are important in the long run are friendships that can be counted upon, not just counted up. But kids often keep tally of how many people are signed up on their MySpace accounts and the number of folks who want to eat at their lunchroom table. Are these really important? Nope, but to a kid who has to exist five days a week within this kind of culture at school, these cannot be ignored. Teens have always and will always continue to worry about popularity — it’s a normal preoccupation of adolescence. And I believe that parents need to be realistic, not rigidly idealistic, in terms of expecting their teen to be able to rise above the power of social pressure. It really hurts to feel invisible at school, believing that if you didn’t show up no one would notice. Or, to sit home with the folks on the weekend, assuming that the other kids are having the time of the lives at the mall or the movies.

It’s important for parents to realize that often girls need to first fit in on more superficial levels (clothing, hair style, and looking like each others’ clone) before they can begin to feel comfortable displaying their individuality. When a teen feels socially secure she is no longer as distracted by anxiety. Chances are that she’ll then have the guts and the focus to be able to take a stand on issues such as animal rights, politics or promoting diversity as well as to whole-heartedly join clubs, to volunteer at the retirement center or to befriend kids who may not be as popular or comfortable within a crowd.

Have a shy daughter who practically freezes when faced with entering a new group of kids? Suggest the following tips to help her to feel more at ease:

To best set the stage for your teen’s journey through adolescence, parents should consider the following:

Is your daughter displaying concerns with body image? Consider the following:

Dr. Ruth Peters is a clinical psychologist and regular contributor to “Today.” For more information you can visit her Web site at www.ruthpeters.com. Copyright ©2006 by Ruth A. Peters, Ph.D. All rights reserved.

PLEASE NOTE: The information in this column should not be construed as providing specific psychological or medical advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand the lives and health of themselves and their children. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist or psychotherapist.

© 2013 MSNBC Interactive.  Reprints


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