Does Popularity in Middle School Backfire Later?

I was never very popular.

For a short time I got to sit at the “it” table in high school and then I didn't. But it was only years later, when rereading (for some reason) the class president's entry in my yearbook, realizing that he had always liked me (he liked me, he really liked me! OK, so I'm no Sally Field).

But popular I was not.

Now a new study has just come out that says that if you're hot when you're 13, you're probably not, 10 years later.

I'm not quite sure that's true. I know a lot of popular people from my high school who went on to become huge successes – a girl from my creative writing class who everybody fought to sit next to since first grade is now a veterinarian, and a boy, an incredible hunk, is a cowboy, riding herd in the Southwest (really).

The New York Times quotes an expert as saying that, as fast-moving middle-schoolers, these kids are driven by a heightened longing to impress friends. And that, they did. I still remember to this day, almost 45 years after graduating, the faces of the cool kids. My own friends from that time? Not so much.
And at our 40th reunion, they were still the cool kids, sitting at the same table, dancing only with each other. It could have been 12th grade all over again.

It all would just be a distant memory if it weren't for the fact that my son now attends middle school at what used to be my high school. Heading into the cafeteria for a recent meeting, I felt that old spasm of tension all over again (even though it looked a whole lot smaller than I remembered!).

And now, I'll admit the sad truth. I've been hoping my son is popular. In sixth grade, when he shared everything with me, he said he was. On a scale of one to 10, he said he was about an eight. I got such a sense of success out of it. (Who knows if it was true? I decided not to look into it!)

In seventh grade, when I asked if he was still popular, he didn't answer. (Of course, he doesn't tell me much of anything anymore, at 13!)

The irony is, I never much cared whether I was popular or not. I never did go to the Junior Prom. But I had my friends, and my boyfriends here and there, and that was pretty much it. So why do I want so much for my son to be popular?

He's not an athlete, he's not into school plays, though he did do the lighting for the fifth grade one. He's just a (smart) computer nerd who's a decent, compassionate kid. And I find that bothers me. I realize this is much more about me than him.

He's perfectly happy and he has lots of friends (but are they popular?!). So why am I so obsessed with this? I guess, because we, as parents, always want our kids to have what we didn't have (even when we didn't want to have it!). And, of course, to shield them from hurt. I'm already dreading the day he asks the girl of his dreams to the prom, and she says no.


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