Study Shows Teens Exaggerate Clique Stereotypes

Teens exaggerate the stereotypes associated with cliques.
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In high schools across the world, teens are grouped together into cliques based on their activities, fashion sense, and academic achievement. Some teens are accepted into the cliques they want to join, while others are excluded and given a label they may not necessarily appreciate.

Whether a teen is labelled a “skater” or a “prep” can make a big difference in their social lives. Socializing with teens outside of their own clique can get complicated.

Sometimes, it’s difficult – if not impossible – to change cliques or overcome a label, even when a teen’s behavior, interests, or attitude changes.

Teens are prone to dramatic misperceptions about one another based on the stereotypes of each clique, and sometimes, that can mean bad news for the choices they make. New research reveals what a powerful role cliques play in the lives of junior high and high school students. New research reveals what a powerful role cliques play in the lives of junior high and high school students. 

What the Research Shows

Teens overestimate how much the 'popular kids' are drinking, using drugs, and engaging in sexual activity, according to a new study conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Stanford. At the same time, teens also underestimate how much time their peers spend studying and exercising.

The study highlighted teens’ tendency to exaggerate existing stereotypes.

For example, they assumed the “burnouts” were smoking a half-pack to a whole pack of cigarettes per day. In reality, kids identified as belonging to this clique actually smoked an average of two to three cigarettes per day. These students were also wrongly presumed to shoplift and damage property more frequently - and study less - than they actually do.

The groups identified as “jocks” and “populars” were presumed to be more sexually active and to party more than their peers. But, the research showed that they were actually not drinking, using drugs, or engaging in any more sexual activity than the “brainy” kids.

Potential Implications for Teens

The second part of the study revealed how teens’ perceptions of one another influenced their behavior. The teens who thought their popular peers were using drugs and alcohol, were more likely to use themselves.

Teens can be easily influenced by what others are doing. Frighteningly, their misperceptions about what their peers are doing can also lead them astray. A teen who assumes “everybody’s doing it,” may be more likely to engage in risky behavior to join the crowd.

Talk to Your Teen About Cliques and Stereotypes

It’s common for teens to feel like they’re outsiders or that they should take action to increase their popularity. Unfortunately, the desire to be in the “in crowd” can lead many teens to make poor choices, in hopes they’ll be perceived as cool.

Hold frequent discussions about cliques and what popularity means to your teen. Discuss common misconceptions about what the “popular” kids are doing. Make it clear that although it may seem like all the other high school students are partying or having sex, that’s not actually the case.

Talk about the risks involved in being labelled as a certain type of person. Encourage your teen to be well-rounded, by participating in a variety of activities, clubs, and social events. An active teen who is involved in different types of activities  is less likely to feel like he has to live up to his reputation as a “jock” or a “prep.”

Help your teen build confidence in himself by giving him the skills and tools he needs to feel good. Encourage him to be his own person, rather than attempt to fit in with other students. 

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