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Denis Fontanini

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Why do kids create social cliques in high school? Do they hinder the growth of others?

I am a Highshool Senior and see this all the time. Cool kids, Girls thinking that there all that. But what I have noticed that has become a problem in my mind is, does this hinder the growth of the other people in the school. When Senior Ball, or Homecoming comes around, and the vote for the king and queen come out, it only contains the "Cool Kids" or the "cliques". What about the other kids, don't they get a chance? ( yes I am one of those other kids). I'm not trying to sound like I want to be there im just noticing a pattern. And I feel bad for the other kids. So what is your input, personal experiance? Any thoughts in general.

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    Feb 20 2013: A bit of background, I've been a highschool teacher for 13years. In my experience it's actually the "cool" kids and the"jocks" that end up having the most problems post school. Once you're in your mid twenties with a couple of kids and a mortgage no-one cares if you were tha king of the senior prom or the captain of the football team. It's the high academic achievers that end up doctors and lawyers and software developers irrespective of how popular they were at school.
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    Aja B. 20+

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    Feb 19 2013: I came across this the other day: http://nymag.com/news/features/high-school-2013-1/

    "In fact, one of the reasons that high schools may produce such peculiar value systems is precisely because the people there have little in common, except their ages. “These are people in a large box without any clear, predetermined way of sorting out status,” says Robert Faris, a sociologist at UC Davis who’s spent a lot of time studying high-school aggression. “There’s no natural connection between them.” Such a situation, in his view, is likely to reward aggression. Absent established hierarchies and power structures (apart from the privileges that naturally accrue from being an upperclassman), kids create them on their own, and what determines those hierarchies is often the crudest common-­denominator stuff—looks, nice clothes, prowess in sports—­rather than the subtleties of personality. “Remember,” says Crosnoe, who spent a year doing research in a 2,200-student high school in Austin, “high schools are big. There has to be some way of sorting people socially. It’d be nice if kids could be captured by all their characteristics. But that’s not realistic.”

    The whole article is pretty interesting.
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    Feb 21 2013: Peter and Aja are right, from what I've seen. We humans seek those we think are similar as a sort of shortcut to self-identity: the group has an identity that we can appropriate. It is not inherently harmful but turns out to be more often than not. Also, for my students, right now is the only time that's real and the only time that matters. If I try to get them to take a longer view, they smile and nod but do not understand or believe. Adults, I think, often forget how incredibly immediate every aspect of life is for young people. The mean thing someone said at lunch can be just as devastating for my kids as getting fired would be for me.

    Some schools do take steps to de-emphasize cliques, but I don't think one can eliminate the human need to associate and belong. Some teachers do let "Cool Kids" get away with things, so sometimes we are tacitly part of the problem.

    I do take issue with characterizing the "Cool Kids" as amounting to nothing. It's too individualistic for such a generality to be true. What Peter asserts is true, though, and one of my kids and I were talking about that very thing yesterday. She realized that she had begun to reduce her circle of friends to the handful she actually enjoyed talking to and spending time with. She said it's much better than trying to fit in with a larger group of superficially homogeneous classmates. She has recognized that, in a few months, she and her classmates will scatter to colleges near and far and build new lives.

    I have run into some of my old kids who defined themselves completely in high school as kings or queens; these folks are neither happy nor well-adjusted because they never figured themselves out as unique individuals. Another old kid, who was a "Cool Kid" and clique leader in high school, teaches down the hall from me and seems quite normal and happy (well, as normal as a teacher can be).
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    Feb 20 2013: My experience is (as well as all that I have talked to about it) is that the "popular kids" rarely amount to anything in life. They get their 15 minutes of fame early. Their identity is based in the approval of others. Base your identity on self-approval and you can go as far as your imagination (ability to conceive satisfying goals) can carry you.

    I think that our educational system actually encourages this. It's certainly not discouraged, is it?
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      Feb 20 2013: On this we agree, my experience "set out below" is similar to yours. It's hard to have perspective when you're in it though. I often tell the kids in my classes that when they're 30 they probably won't be in contact with any more than one or two of their school friends but they never believe me.
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    Feb 20 2013: The cultures at different high schools are very different. I don't even know whether my high school had homecoming royal families, or whether my kids' high schools did. If these roles are selected on the basis of popularity, it might bother only those who wished they were most popular. This wasn't something I cared about or that any of my kids did.

    I think most kids value feeling that they have a connection to something, but I think there are lots of more satisfying alternatives for many kids than social cliques. It might be the math team, the programming club, the literary magazine, the band, drama club, or a school or community service organization.

    I would guess that being part of the cool clique hinders growth of the members more than it does of the non-members who engage instead in their most compelling interests.
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    Feb 20 2013: Cliques never bothered me. I had a small group of friends I naturally gravitated to, they were some of the most intelligent people in school and cool in their own way. Maybe that brought us together, we were all really intelligent so we could entertain and stimulate each other. I don't know if it would have been as interesting to talk to the more popular kids cause they might not have been as intelligent.
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    Feb 19 2013: Absolutely agree with Aja -- there just aren't enough better ways for kids to group themselves. For kids at an age where they are still very much figuring out where they belong and what they're interested in, any kind of offer of identity is welcome.

    But I'm not sure what I feel about whether it hurts others. It seems to me that part of that pain is just not being sure where you belong, which might be healthier and more correct than believing in some kind of superficial identity. But of course it's also a structure that easily leads to bullying, which is much more definitively harmful.
  • Feb 19 2013: Humans are biological social animals. We like to "have a pack" and our belonging to a pack is part of our identity. Part of that pack association is defining boundary lines. By defining people as outside your group you tighten solidarity within the group. Outside of high school you can affiliate with a religion, a country, or a political ideology. Part of this definition is defining who is outside your particular group. It's "us" versus "them".

    Not having a strong pack can be painful and it forces you to struggle more with your identity since you don't have the pack to help you with a sense of identity. Sometimes this struggle can have positive outcomes (high academic achievement by 'nerds') and sometimes negative ones (anti-social behavior by 'loners'). Where ever you fit in the spectrum of pack versus individual you should try to use it to make yourself a better person.

    Now a couple quotes since I have space...

    "He who attends to his greater self becomes a great man, and he who attends to his smaller self becomes a small man." - Mencius (couldn't find the Mencius quote I wanted, but this one works) [translated from Chinese]

    "There is no one who does not carry scars on the heart. If there were someone in the world like that, it would be a shallow soul." - Hiei [translated from Japanese]