Do Stereotypical Depictions of High School Cliques and Labels Hold True in Reality?

A number of assumptions have been made regarding the behavior of teenagers and how they interact in groups. Most of these assumptions often determine how teenagers are represented in popular culture, media and how they are perceived and characterized by the society. This paper seeks to determine whether or not these stereotypical depictions of high school cliques and labels hold true in reality or whether they have just been fabricated in an attempt to give structure and meaning to associations that may not be as complex as researchers and observers think they are.

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Portrayals of cliques in popular culture often pay exclusive attention to cliques involving girls and the hierarchical dynamics that occur within them. While it is accurate that girls often form cliques and association earlier in life than boys and that these groups are more salient than those formed by boys, it is not accurate to assume that boys do not form such cliques. The reason that cliques composed of girls are so visible for the outside observer is probably because the girls within the group often engage in emotional sharing, gossip and are often more exclusive than those formed by boys. Cliques formed by boys are more open to accepting new members from outside the clique. The stereotype that cliques are often unwelcoming to new members is partially supported by the observation of cliques formed by girls but not in boys.

Different labels have been attached to cliques and the individuals within them. These labels include; popular group, Jocks, Nerds, Athletics group and Goths. The popular group is seen to be composed of teenagers who have the highest number of friends in school. This group may also carry within itself members of the Jock group and athletic groups whose major inclination is towards sports and athletic activities. The Nerd group is composed of studious individuals, socially impaired and thus have minimal social interactions. The Goths often appear depressed, socially impaired, wear dark clothing and heavy makeup and keep a minimal number of friends. Despite the accuracy of these labels based on the tendency of individuals with similar interests such as tastes in music, leisure activities and clothing to signal each other and become friends, It is completely ignorant to assume that just because the members of a clique share interests on one or two areas, they are completely alike and can be lumped together as a whole. A lot of bias seems to have been involved in the categorization of high school associations. These categorization often attempt to reduce teenagers in to one dimensional characters, to simplify their behavior and make it easier to understand. However, teenagers are unique individuals with multiple unique attributes to their personalities that cannot be summarized using labels or a one size fits all principle. However, these labels have a way of dominating the lives of the individuals that they are bestowed upon and more often than not the unique attributes and differences possessed by members of the clique disappear or are overshadowed by the common group agenda. Once an individual is labeled his/her self-image is altered. This alteration, may push the individual to changing who they are and adopting behaviours that are in compliance with the suppositions that the society has made about them. For instance a teenager who is good at athletics but still incredibly intellectual may negate his/her responsibilities towards his/her studies and channel all his/her energy towards athletics in order to conform to the perceptions that have already been made about him/her. This could be the reason why these cliques in high school often appear to be composed of members who behave the same way, enjoy the same things and excel at the same activities. Becoming a member of a clique may have led its members to abandon or hide all the attributes that make them different from the rest of the group and incline themselves towards behaviours and activities that are in tandem with the labels bestowed upon the clique as well as the perception and treatment they receive from other people.

According to Utah (2009), each clique is often dressed in a similar manner and it is almost always possible to identify members of the clique based on how they dress. This study attempted to compare real adolescent interactions with popular culture depictions such as those found in films such as Mean Girls. Despite the subtle similarities found between high school cliques in popular and cliques as they appear in a real high school social scene, overly gross misrepresentations and exaggerations make these films an incredibly biased reference point for real teenage associations. For instance, the popular group is often seen wearing expensive designer clothing, driving the most expensive, arriving to school almost runway ready and having no other occupation apart from looking good and manipulating others. On the other hand, the nerd group is composed of teenagers who almost always have poor eyesight and have to wear big glasses, have terrible dentition and have to wear braces and are often excluded from any form of social interaction. It would be absurd to just assume that everyone who wears glasses is smart and all that popular teenagers arrive to school in high heels, rule the social scene with an iron fist and perform poorly in class. Apart from the dressing stereotype, the Nerd group has always been subject to the supposition that they are troubled and socially impaired adolescents who lack friends and endure a lonely existence throughout their high school years. However, such individuals often gravitate towards each other and form their own cliques and may not be as excluded as their stereotypes. In spite of the major inaccuracies contained in most of these labels and stereotypes, some perceptions do actually reflect on real teenage behavior. Factors such as socio- economic status and race are strong determinants of the kind of members a clique will be composed of. According to Utah (2009), teenage cliques are often racially homogenous. This could be due to the tendency of individuals to identify and gravitate towards others who look, act and behave like them. Furthermore, it is also accurate that a clique has incredible capacity to change the behavior of a teenager. Once teenagers with aggressive attitudes gravitate towards other who possess similar traits, their behavior is likely to escalate rapidly and involve more irresponsible acts of aggression due to the safety in number provided for by the group. However, the reverse is also possible, once a teenager joins a clique composed of members with fairly positive behavior attributions, this group is likely to positively influence the behaviour of the new member and lead to positive transformation (Adams et al, 2005).

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