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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Is It More Important to Be Popular Than Smart?

By Peter DeWitt — January 15, 2012 4 min read
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“At fourteen you don’t need sickness or death for tragedy.” Jessamyn West

Peer relationships can be complicated. Students who get along today may not get along tomorrow. Research shows that there is a great deal of storm in stress in adolescence and the smallest of issues can become the biggest of problems. With an increase in social media and texting among kids as young as elementary age, the issues that used to be considered small can be blown out of proportion on the internet.

Hurtful words and arguments seem worse when they are seen in print or through e-mail. Those words are also harder to take back because they can be saved and forwarded to other friends. In a matter of minutes, a simple disagreement can become an all-out war where peers are forced to choose sides when they would really rather walk away.

Students who suffer from low self-esteem have the 21st century skills to try to make themselves feel better or worse. They can find ways to improve their self-esteem through positive experiences on the internet such as researching projects, or finding creative games to play. The internet offers an escape for some students who are growing up in a house or town that does not allow them to be who they are, and they can find inspiration to keep moving forward.

On the other hand, that escape on the internet can be dangerous as well. There are many sites that are much too adult and inappropriate for students. A computer without parent safety measures offers a perfect storm for students who are looking for trouble.

In these days of quick fixes and the noise that comes with 24/7 entertainment, kids are being exposed to too many negative role models and bad behavior. They are not at an age where they can process much of the information that is coming at them because they lack the maturity and life experience which allows them to do so.

Entertainment News
“What the mass media offers is not popular art, but entertainment which is intended to be consumed like food, forgotten, and replaced by a new dish.” W. H. Auden

As we turn on the television or the radio we are exposed to entertainment shows that report on a celebrity’s every move. Who went to lunch with whom? Who was caught at night with someone else? Private lives are exposed, which many celebrities may enjoy, and kids are watching all of this behavior play out before their very eyes. They think the behavior they see on television is what is important. Bad behavior is exposed on all the entertainment shows and some kids without the right support at home believe the only way they will get noticed is through emulating that bad behavior.

Many programs, commercials and shows that children are exposed to have changed since the 80’s and 90’s. Things that used to be Rated R would be considered PG in today’s market. In an effort to be less prudish the television networks have now advanced to a place that exposes kids to too much. Graphic violence, sexual content, and explicit language are some of the things viewers can see anytime that they turn on the television.

Why is it ok for students to be exposed to all of these things? Does all of this have an effect on their behavior? How does this affect their academic achievement? No matter how innovative schools can be can they compete with the fluff that they see on television? Are we loving in an age where it is more important to be popular than smart?

Being Popular
There seems to be an overwhelming amount of students who would prefer to be popular than smart. In fact, I would venture to guess that there are parents who would rather have popular children that have many friends. Parents form cliques as much as children do and it starts at a very early age. All parents want their children to fit in with peers but some take it to an extreme.

Many students randomly accept “friends” they do not know on Facebook in order to boost the number of friends that show up on their Facebook page. The same can be done on Twitter accounts. Not only can adolescents collect followers but they can find their favorite celebrity or reality star on there as well. There are some celebrities, and definitely some reality stars who post comments that are not appropriate for the kids who are following them. It’s not to blame the celebrity personality, but many parents cannot keep up with the technology that their kids are using.

All of this creates the perfect storm for children because they feel intense pressure to be invited to every birthday party, movie outing and sleepover. Instead of finding a few good friends, there are children who collect numerous friends who may never be able to meet their needs.

During these days of quick fixes, having friends and media that provides way too much information, it’s more important than ever for parents and schools to work together to give kids a proper foundation. They need to learn what is mere entertainment, as pathetic as some of it is, and what is valuable for them to take into their future.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.