Social Groups

When your daughter refers to classmates as Goths, Heads, Punks, Boarders, Jocks, or Techies, you may wonder if she’s mocking or disparaging her peers. Differentiating among social groups helps her find her way during adolescence, but what do these terms actually mean?

It may help to learn the labels. By middle school, group names help girls discover who they are and where they fit in. For example, Techies are quiet computer whizzes who become the lighting crew for more outgoing Drama Kids. Crunchies share a passion for the environment. Athletes are still Jocks, but now include more girls.

Some groups proclaim a shared identity through strong fashion statements. If your daughter insists on wearing a “uniform,” she may be declaring her membership in a certain group. Punks may sport multiple pierces and dyed hair. Along with Goths, who wear all-black, these teens are shouting, “I want to be different!” Boarders, who enjoy skate- or snowboarding, also wear distinct baggy attire. While Preps still dress conservatively and Hippies prefer loose clothing and sandals, Japs and Ghettos favor ultra-chic designer labels and braids and chains, respectively.

Such group labels change over the years and differ from school to school. So parents would be wise to check out community-specific meanings, contemporary definitions, and new terms. For example, Hoods and Greasers have become Punks, while the cool crowd is now the Populars. No longer can you judge a group’s behavior from its name. Potheads, Partiers, and Clubbers may have clear interests, but no social group today is immune from using substances. Hippies and other groups often mix with Potheads. Does your daughter aspire to a cooler group? If she’s not included in any particular clique, her peers may dub her a Wannabe.

One thing is for certain. If your daughter’s sudden attraction to certain groups worries you, know that it’s probably temporary. Research shows that high school sophomores’ closest friends have changed by senior year. Plus, the boundaries of today’s social groups are highly permeable. That means your daughter can enjoy many different sorts of friends. Encourage this skill, which helps many adolescent girls manage social challenges. Just make sure she doesn’t feel pressured to be a mediator among various groups.

Is she changing peer groups often? While this used to be considered a red flag signaling poor social adaptation, the opposite may be true today. Girls who shift friendships may be trying out new interests and identities or distancing themselves from more troubled peers and undesirable activities. Meeting your daughter’s friends—and basing your judgments on more than their appearance—is still the best way to learn about her choices.

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