Cliques, mean girls, bullying. The vast majority of children have to run through an unpleasant social gauntlet at some point. For parents, it can be excruciating to witness their children fall out of favor with the crowd.
Our first instinct may be to try to help. But a new book suggests that as long as the treatment isn’t extreme, it’s probably best to stay out of it. And, maybe celebrate.
According to author Alexandra Robbins, being unpopular may be one of the best predictors of future success.
Robbins, whose bestseller “The Overachievers,” (Hyperion 2006) followed students at Bethesda’s Walt Whitman High School and established her as an expert on teens, has just published “The Geeks Shall Inherit The Earth: Popularity, Quirk Theory and Why Outsiders Thrive After High School.” (Hyperion 2011.)
For the book, Robbins studied students and teachers at several high schools, including a few in the region. (She didn’t want to name the locals for fear of “outing” the students.) She concluded that the traits that often make kids unpopular, such as creativity, individuality, passion, can make them more interesting and successful adults. She calls it the “Quirk Theory.”
“I am definitely a beneficiary of the quirk theory” said Robbins, a 1994 Whitman graduate.
A self-described “floater” in high school, she said she socialized with many groups, but never felt like she belonged to one. It made for some lonely weekends. But now, she realizes, it helped her learn to relate to all different kinds of people.
Robbins thinks it’s probably worse for students today. While researching her book, she said she found a more stratified culture than she remembered. She theorized that standardized testing has created a more conformist culture. Plus, thanks to the Internet and reality TV, the celebrity culture has become more pervasive in high schools.
Robbins advises parents to understand that their child’s social exclusion likely has more to do with the school culture than with the child. If his social life seems wanting, but he’s okay with it, parents should be okay with it too. If a child seems unhappy, then parents can encourage extra-curricular activities outside the school atmosphere. Only in a worst-case-scenario should parents consider changing schools.
What’s not helpful, she said, is for parents to encourage a child to conform. “Your home should be a safe place where children know they can be themselves without worrying about their image.” she writes in a section of the book that offer suggestions to parents and school officials.
In other words, turn the helicopter blades off.
Robbins will be at the Bethesda Barnes & Noble this Saturday afternoon May 7th to sign and discuss the book.
Are your kids enduring social exclusion? What do you think of the Quirk Theory?
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