As I sit here looking at my high school year book, I feel like I am truly back in high school – at least for a few moments. As I look at photos of my former classmates I find myself categorizing them. Billy was a drama kid. Sherri was popular. That tall kid whose name I can’t retrieve at this point was a jock. That girl was a major nerd. He was a pothead. She was a loner. Alan was the best. He was and still is so cool.
I start to think about myself. Hmmm. I was a little of this and a little of that. I certainly wasn’t a jock. Maybe I was a cool nerd. Is that combination even allowed?
So, I need your help here. I will identify some categories and let’s see how most of us labeled ourselves.
Type 1 – Popular
This teen is frequently surrounded by others who want to be his/her friend or acquaintance. If you are a popular kid, then you get lots of invitations and probably have a very busy Facebook page. Your parents probably have an expensive cell phone bill. You may or may not be a nice person. Some popular girls, for example, are “it girls.” Other kids want to be around them because they have nice energy and are just plain pleasant. On the other hand, a popular teen may be a bully and the other kids may be nice to you so that they don’t become a victim. So, popular is not necessarily good or bad. It, too, is fraught with confusion.
Type 2 – Bully
We all knew one of these. This teen is always on the prowl for someone to torture. He will embarrass you, hurt you, and may even make inappropriate comments about your mother. The bully may make you physically sick, anxious, and depressed. He does not know that years later you will remember his full name and very specific details about his torturous behavior. There are no redeeming qualities associated with this particular category.
Type 3 – Jock
The jock is a pretty standard category. For this teen – sports come first. The jock can usually be found eating lunch and hanging out with the other jocks. They generally travel as a pack.
Type 4 – The Loner
This teen may be called by many labels but can usually be found alone and preoccupied with something other than peers. The loner generally does not look happy.
Type 5 – The Nerd
This teen is deeply concerned with academics, grades, and learning in general. Frequently, this type of immersion is associated with a low level of social activity. The nerd often grows up to be unusually successful and you may be sorry that you weren’t nicer to this person in high school.
My advice for parents is that you encourage your teen to sample a bit from each category. Just as we try to taste different items on a menu-variety is the spice of life. Suggest to your kids that they try to reach out and make friends in a variety of groups. There is a lot to be gained from knowing all kinds of people in life. Remind them that life can get boring in a quick hurry if they get pigeonholed into a specific clique. You may also want to talk to your teens about the risks associated with being exclusive. Not only might they get booted from a clique but they may hurt others by excluding them.
As we grow older, there’s more blurring of the lines between these categories, but it’s always interesting to reminisce. What category or categories did you fall into? And what categories should we add to this list?
Barbara Greenberg PhD is the co-author of “Teenage as A Second Language – A Parents Guide to Becoming Bilingual.” She is also the co-creators of the interactive and lively website talkingteenage.com.