Hung up on Rungs — Helping Children Navigate the Popularity Ladder
posted by: Lori Holden
Here’s the way I saw the social universe during junior high and high school:
- Top rung: Football and basketball players; cheerleaders/pompon girls
- 2nd rung: Other jocks; friends of jocks and cheerleaders
- 3rd rung: Cowboys
- 4th rung: Smart geeks
- 5th rung: Band weenies and choir/theater people
- 6th rung: Stoners
Really, this list overstates the importance of rungs 3-6. It felt like below the 2nd rung, we were all lumped together as varying degrees of Losers.
Me? I was a Brand Weenie and proud of it. I wore a funny hat during marching band parades and hung out with other Band Weenies. We had cleaner fun than the Popular Kids — we weren’t cool enough for alcohol and other vices. We were more likely to TP a house (the quarterback’s naturally; the closest I could get to him) than to attend a kegger.
I got through high school without making any really bad decisions, and I suppose it was said I had a pretty good head on my shoulders. So in a way, unpopularity worked for me.
But at the time, I was keenly aware of being low on the ladder. This fact was emphasized more recently at my mmmpttieth reunion, when I wished I’d had a dime for every time a former Top Runger asked me, “And which high school did YOU go to?”
YOURS, you self-centered princess / narcissistic musclehead!
But no, I’m over it now. Clearly. Thanks for asking.
I often wondered where popularity comes from. I mean, at what age do you get assigned a rung? Was it before 4th grade, when I moved into the school system? Was I assigned a lower rung because I was new? Then why were other newcomers allowed access to the upper rungs? Was it simply that I was not an athlete? That my jeans were off-brand and not Calvin Kleins? (On second thought, if you click on the link above, I bet the reasons will become apparent.)
What were the qualities that separated the Ins from the Outs? And who got to be the judge? I’d like to think it wasn’t just being, uh, easy, back in the 70s and 80s. After all, isn’t it supposed to be a recent phenomenon that kids are very, uh, body-savvy by middle school?
Now my children are beginning to steer their way through social strata. In the early elementary grades, the rungs assignments are not yet set and the kiddies are not yet
cutthroat evil vicious eager social climbers, but I’m not exactly sure when the game begins. It could be very soon for my children. Surely the foundation for each of them is already being formed.
So this makes me think: how can I best help them navigate the emerging strata in their social lives? How do I teach them to balance their individuality (Tessa has a unique sense of fashion style, and Reed is one of the most enthusiastic Jedis-in-training in this galaxy) with attempts to fit in and conform? How do I keep them from being either the hurters or the hurtees?
What are your thoughts?
- What are your position and memories of your own ladder?
- Where does popularity come from?
- How will you / did you help your children with these issues?
Lori Holden blogs from metro-Denver at LavenderLuz.com. Her book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole (written with her daughter’s birth mom), is available through your favorite online bookseller and makes a thoughtful gift for the adoptive families in your life.
Lori is also available to deliver her open adoption workshop to adoption agencies and support groups.