In BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends)? A Girls Guide to Happy Friendships, I share nine “Friendship Truths.” These truths help kids (and adults) navigate relationships with more social awareness, whether it’s changing friendships, conflict, or mistakes. I’m diving into the nine Friendship Truths in this series of posts. Here are the posts about Friendship Truths #1, #2, #3, and #4 if you missed them. Now, let’s dive into Friendship Truth #5.
Friendship Truth #5:
Some kids with strong friendship qualities may not have the “most” friends. Sometimes kids with the “most” friends do not make the “best” friends.
From BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends)? A Girls Guide to Happy Friendships
Starting around 4th grade, the term “popular” emerges in kids’ conversations about their social world. When I ask kids what makes someone “popular,” their responses reflect a consistent set of traits and behaviors. Some of these fall into pro-social behaviors, while others do not.
Research on popularity, especially in the preteen and teen years, backs this up. The popularity scene in adolescence is complex because there is more than one kind of popularity.
Types of Popularity
In his book, Popular – The Power of Likability in a Status Obsessed World, Dr. Mitch Prinstein describes the two types of popularity as “likability” and “status“. Younger children learn and strive to be “likable,” which includes the traits of sharing, cooperating, and treating others with respect. Young children consistently name peers with “likable” traits” as the most popular.
Another form of popularity based on “status” emerges in early adolescence. The traits of “status” popularity include power, influence, and notoriety. Kids with this type of popularity may be admired but also feared. The behaviors and traits associated with status popularity combine prosocial behaviors with antisocial behaviors like aggressiveness and social manipulation.
During the preteen and early teen years, students describe peers with “status” as well as “likable” peers as popular.
The Growth in Importance of Popularity in Early Adolescence
Less than 10% of kids consider popularity more important than friendship in early elementary school. In 5th to 8th grades, this percentage jumps to over 25% and peaks in early high school. So, kids become more interested in popularity during early adolescence.
Tweens and teens are working on figuring out who they are outside their family, so peer status matters. Not all kids can or want to be popular, but all need to figure out how to navigate peers and status.
Friendship Truth #5
Friendship Truth #5 encourages kids to navigate their social scene focusing on quality friendships. This truth states: Some kids with strong friendship qualities may not have the “most” friends. Sometimes kids with the “most” friends do not make the “best” friends.
Kids want to be seen and accepted, so the allure of popularity makes sense. “The urge to be popular among peers reaches its zenith in adolescence,” explains Dr. Prinstein. However, the behaviors and traits associated with “likability,” such as being a good listener and respectful, help kids forge genuine relationships.
- Validate kids’ experiences and emotions. Listen deeply as kids process uncomfortable feelings and situations. By naming emotions, kids begin to tame them.
- Talk about social skills such as being a good friend, and what qualities to look for in friendship. Practice soft skills like how to decline invitations gracefully. These conversations support kids’ growth as they develop skills and build peer relationships.
- Discuss different types of popularity and the traits of quality friendships. Friendship churns and changes are common during the preteen and teen years as kids develop social skills and explore their identities. Remind kids that quality friendships feel supportive and accepting.
- Be a voice for authenticity and compassion. Your child can’t and won’t be friends with everyone. However, they can treat others with kindness and respect. Parents play an essential role in modeling and encouraging these behaviors.
Navigating peer relationships and social status is filled with ups and downs as kids develop social-emotional skills. Even difficult and lost relationships provide an opportunity to learn skills that will support future relationships. Friendship Truth #5 reminds kids to focus on the quality of friendships over quantity.
About Jessica Speer
Jessica Speer is the award-winning author of BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends)master’ss Guide to Happy Friendships (2021) and Middle School – Safety Goggles Advised (August 2022). She has a master’s degree in social sciences and explores social-emotional topics in ways that connect with kids. For more information, visit JessicaSpeer.com