Foundation, NJ U. S. A
the Message Continues ...
Article 1 -
Article 2 -
Article 3 -
Article 5 -
Article 6 -
Article 7 -
Article 8 -
Article 9 -
Article 10 -
Popularity Sucks: Kids Should Embrace
Their Inner Loser, Author Says
While on the speaking circuit at
high schools around the country,
author Alexandra Robbins noticed
a disturbing trend: kids coming
up to her and mentioning, almost
apologetically, that they
weren't in the "cool" crowd in
their schools. It was clear,
Robbins said, that many of these
kids felt their lowly social
status meant they weren't worth
I saw that many of the students who mentioned
their supposedly low social status were students
I was naturally drawn to, whether because they
interesting personality, or refreshing
ideas, or endearing quirks," Robbins told
LiveScience. "So I wanted to get across the idea
to these students that your social status
doesn't matter. It doesn’t say anything about
who you are as a person."
The result was
Robbins' new book, "The Geeks Shall Inherit the
Earth: Popularity, Quirk Theory and Why
Outsiders Thrive After High School" (Hyperion,
2011). In the book, Robbins delves into social
science research about
why cliques rule schools and follows seven
real kids to see how they navigate their social
subcultures. Along the way, she chronicles the
stories of a popular-but-miserable cheerleader,
a gamer facing teasing because he's gay, and
educators who model social nastiness for their
students with cliquish teacher "sororities."
LiveScience chatted with Robbins about the
social scene in high schools today.
LiveScience: It sounds like
the "unpopular" kids you talk about in your book
aren't actually kids nobody likes, but that
these kids just aren't in the popular cliques.
I call them the "cafeteria fringe," which is
basically any student who doesn't sit at that
popular table. What's ridiculous is that
students often aspire to get to that one popular
table, which supposedly represents the cool
crowd at school, but it's so skewed. There are
so few students who are actually included in
There are two kinds of popularity. For many,
many decades in order to study popularity,
researchers would ask students about who they
wanted to spend time with the most, and they
considered those students with the most votes to
be the most popular. More recently, a few
psychologists changed their thinking and said,
let's just ask them directly, "Who is popular?"
And they were stunned because the two lists were
What's the difference between these
two types of popularity?
One type is "perceived popularity," which is who
kids think is popular, and the other is
"sociometric popularity," which is who the kids
actually like. In today's schools, to be popular
does not mean to be liked.
The in-crowd at
most schools often falls into the "perceived
popular" category. It turns out that students in
this group are more likely to engage in risky
behavior. They are often less likely to do well
in school. They are more likely to conform,
because they're more likely to feel pressure
from their group to conform. Perceived popular
students are much more likely to be involved in
relational aggression, which includes things
like rumor-spreading, whispering, and
It's a very Machiavellian atmosphere to try to
obtain and then retain popularity in schools
today. What I'm saying is, it is not worth it.
It sounds like instead of parents
being worried that their kid isn't popular, they
should be worried if he or she is.
That's exactly what I'm saying.
How much pressure do kids feel to be
in this group?
I think they feel increasing pressure to conform
to a very narrow ideal in school, not just
academically, but also socially. I think there
is way too much pressure on students to fit into
this very rigid, confined mold of the "ideal
student," when instead we should be nurturing
the outsiders who reject that image, or who
can't fit into that image. That's how I get into
What is quirk theory?
Many of the differences that lead people to
exclude students in school are the same
characteristics or skills that other people will
value, admire or respect about those students in
adulthood and outside of the school atmosphere.
So is this like how the unpopular
kid grows up to become Bill Gates?
Bill Gates is probably a good example of quirk
theory, but this book isn't just about geeks.
I'm saying this applies to loners, floaters,
skaters, goths, punks, band geeks. I'm saying
this is across the board, that students who
don't conform to the popular crowd image are
going to be better off after school.
If the popular cliques can be so cruel
to each other, what drives kids to want to be a
part of these groups?
I think celebrity culture plays a role and the
way you see people outright say on reality TV,
"I'm not here to be anyone's friend." Many
students are now viewing school social life as a
race up the ladder. It has a lot to do with
prestige, with the emphasis today on being known
and being famous.
Whitney, the cheerleader I followed, one time
she was recapping a party for me and said,
"Yeah, I felt like a mini-celebrity."
Is there something adults can do to
discourage this mindset?
First of all, parents should never emphasize
popularity. They should never push their child
to make more friends if the child is happy with
his or her current social life. Parents should
also try very hard to resist getting caught up
in the whirlwind of social comparisons among
parents. I tell parents that your child's social
status does not reflect your own and definitely
does not reflect your parenting skills. [How to Avoid Raising a Bully]
Also parents should encourage their children to
express unique views and styles, even if their
perspectives differ from your own. It is so
important for students to see that differences
are valued and shouldn't damage relationships.
Another thing parents can do is encourage
students to pursue nonschool activities. That's
because once you're stuck with a label in a
school environment, it can be hard to rip it
off. I think all kids could benefit from getting
involved with other students who don't know
their social label.
What about the school environment?
Schools don't realize that they are helping to
order the school social hierarchy. There are
three components to popularity: The student has
to be visible, recognizable and influential.
Well, who is the school making visible, popular
and influential? At pep rallies, it's always the
athletes who are being recognized.
There's a New Jersey school that has such a
talented marching band that the school
highlights it. And because that school
emphasizes the importance of the marching band,
the marching band students are the coolest in
that school. So you can flip the hierarchy.
Don't offer group discounts for events like
plays, sports or concerts, don't give discounts
to couples or kids who go in groups. That's not
fair to kids who would go alone. Schools can
also vary cafeteria table seating options.
Instead of having a set number of chairs at each
table they can have tables of various sizes so
that various sized groups can mingle
comfortably. They can set out loose chairs to
encourage floaters to go from one group to
another. The worst part of any school day
socially is walking into that cafeteria and
trying to figure out where to belong.
Is the goal to do away with
popularity or to move different kids into the
I think the goal, ultimately, is to have an
environment in which every student feels
comfortable. Hierarchies are going to fall into
place naturally. It's just what happens
everywhere. But nobody should feel comfortable
or devalued or as if they're less of a person
just because they're not at the popular table.
NEWSLETTERS - BOOKS
- CONTACT - FEEDBACK
material published by Al-Huda.com / And the Message Continues is
the sole responsibility of its author's).
opinions and/or assertions contained therein do not necessarily
reflect the editorial views of this site,
of Al-Huda and its officers.