By James Sweet III | United States
Hierarchies are naturally occurring, but the values that determine an individual’s placement in that hierarchy varies. The most peculiar of social structures is the one formed by the youth, whose brain is still developing. In high schools, students are often associated with groups, and those groups are placed above another group. These social structures vary according to location, like most social structures. Unlike other social hierarchies, this one is not reliant on wealth, race, or gender. Rather, the high school social hierarchy focuses on the acceptance of others.
PBS compiled and analyzed research to determine what a high school social hierarchy typically looks like. The following is what they believe the average high school social structure looks like.
- The “Very Popular Kids”: The athletic “alpha males” and the “queen bees”. They often have social skills and looks that make others more attracted to them. They are usually physically stronger than other students of their respective gender and may be more aggressive.
- The “Accepted Kids”: The majority of high school students fall into this group. They are considered well known or popular and are smart and outgoing.
- The “Average or Ambiguous Kids”: While not popular, they are also not unpopular. They are very common in friend groups.
- The “Neglected Kids”: These students are often well-behaved students and achieve good or average grades, causing teachers to not give them special or extra attention. However, it does take them much longer to make friends, and they often do require or wish for some kind of attention from parents and teachers.
- The “Controversial Kids”: They often have a mixed, mostly negative, reputation to their name. They may be nice with some weird habits or be bullies to kids while making others laugh with their sense of humor.
- The “Rejected Kids”: These students are at the highest social risk. “Rejected Kids” are either submissive, meaning they withdraw themselves from social activities so as to not receive any attention, or aggressive, meaning they purposely act up or emotionally blow up if they are teased too much.
The Line of Acceptance
A student that belongs in any of the first three groups finds themselves above the “line of acceptance”. They are mostly accepted by their peers or are at least not considered unaccepted. Any students one of the last three groups are below the line. They are mostly not accepted by the majority of their peers.
The line is drawn between the “Average Kids” and the “Neglected Kids”. If you are on that line, you are, theoretically, perfectly balanced between acceptance and its opposite. The line is the halfway point towards total acceptance and domination of your school as well as complete isolation and “undesirable” status. One question arises from this: What causes one to rise or fall in this social structure?
The Aggressive Social Climb
As previously stated, the students at the top of the high school social hierarchy are likely to be more aggressive than their counterparts. In fact, a student is more likely to be aggressive if they above the line of acceptance and submissive if they are below the line of acceptance.
While you can have bullies that are beneath the line of acceptance, they are often found above the line. Some students below the line of acceptance undeniably are victims of bullying by either students in their same social status or by those above them. Those at the top of the social structure, however, face bullying and/or aggressive actions more commonly than one typically thinks.
In schools, students are taught that bullies are insecure or are mimicking their home life. This isn’t entirely true for all bullies. It may apply for the kids that are in the “Controversial” social status, but it likely isn’t the case for bullies that are on the top. Researchers from the University of California at Davis and Pennsylvania State sought to uncover the motives of bullying and found a possible answer.
Students at the top of the social hierarchy are aggressive and competing to become the king or queen of the school. In a conflict that occurs over the social climb, neither student is willing to back down. Students at the top of the social structure have more to lose than the average student. After all, a group of friends may revolve around one person, and they are very likely to defend that status as the center of their group, meaning that conflicts are usually started by those in the center and that the friends in the circle back up their “leader”.
Assuming you fit the social norms, the risk of victimization increases with your social status. Being at the top makes you a target. If you’re taken down or outdone and do nothing about it, that’s a guarantee that you are going to lose social status and your rival will gain your former place. If you continue to fall down the social ladder, there is less of a reason for those wishing to climb up to bully you.
Once a student is threatened, they are likely to undergo radical personal changes, either to prepare for the fall to the bottom or to prepare their retaliation. This conflict at the top does spill out to the social groups below them. If an aggressive alpha male drastically drops in social status, they may take their anger out on some submissive, lower status student who wishes no harm. There is little to gain from this, but it serves as an emotional vent for the fallen.
High school has a very tense environment. Students compete for grades and social status. So how does one ensure that they are not trampled during the stampede for the top?
One thing should be clear: do not change who you are as a person. You are a unique individual, and trying to conform yourself to the masses is a way to erode your identity.
It comes down to being able and willing to fight back. Do not initiate conflict, but do not avoid it if it comes your way. If you are willing to defend your own status, not only are you ensuring that you will stay at your current place in the hierarchy, you are also making it possible to shut an aggressive bully down and climb the ladder yourself. As Dr. Jordan B. Peterson said: “Stand up straight with your shoulders back.”
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