Previous Post Next Post


Brought to you by

What Makes Kids Popular?

By Whit Honea |

“Oh, she’s a really popular kid in fourth grade,” said the little girl walking with my boys on the sidewalk. They were right in front of me, and I wanted to ask her why the “she” in question was so popular but decided to see how it played out. My boys just nodded, and the conversation continued without my interruption.

Still, I can’t help but wonder, how do you quantify popularity? Where does popularity come from? When do kids learn how to be popular? These would be the popular questions. Get it?

First, some backstory: I remember kids that were popular in elementary school when I was a kid, but many of them peaked early and by high school were just members of the pimpled mass. Then there were others that maintained their level of popularity well into the real world, and sometimes, late at night, you can still hear them smiling at you from some distant hallway.

I was fairly popular throughout high school (it didn’t last), but I didn’t fit any of the criteria that seemed to be the basis of so many stereotypes. I wasn’t a jock, noticeably handsome, or rich. In fact, now that I think about it, I may not have been popular at all. It’s been a while. Time is fuzzy.

My rise in social circles was mostly due to the classic right place/right time algorithm. I was the guy that did the morning announcements over the loudspeaker, emceed all of the school activities, had a lead role or two in our well-respected drama productions, and leaned a little to the geeky side (see, algorithm). Also, my friends were jocks and handsome. I don’t remember anyone being rich.

But that was high school, and while those stereotypes still exist (according to TV — I haven’t been in a high school in a long time), it has been my personal experience that the rise of geekdom has helped level the playing field between what was once considered popular and what was not. Nerd is no longer a label to be stitched into one’s wedgie-torn undies, but something to be worn with pride. Actual nerds may vary.

Elementary school is full of dorky little kids being dorky little kids and loving every minute of it. When do they have time to care about hierarchies and the perception of status? At what point does the pecking order of popularity and the acceptance of social contracts/injustice start? On what is it based?

I’m not even sure that I would want my kids to be popular. Yes, I want them to be liked by their peers and to have good friends, but there are a lot of trappings to popularity that I would rather they not deal with. First world problems? Maybe — but, and I’m painting with the stereotype brush here, I wouldn’t want them to feel that they had to be something that they are not. I want them to be, first and foremost, comfortable in their own skin. I’m basing a lot of this on Glee and various Disney Channel movies, so forgive me if my grasp of stereotypes is a little rusty. I’m quite positive that many popular kids in real life are genuine and totally sincere, which is fantastic, but those kids don’t get their own shows on MTV. It worries me a little bit.  At what price comes fame?

Last night there was an event for parents at our school where, thanks to two different conversations, I was able to glance behind the curtain of popularity. First, one of the teachers mentioned that she considers my oldest son to be a leader. To be completely honest, this was news to me (and my wife). He is many things, but we had already started coming to terms with his tendency to follow, so hearing something to the contrary was surprising. Does being a leader make a kid any more popular than the kid listening to him? Does it matter?

Then I heard that my youngest son is, according to classmates, very popular, and that everyone wants to be his friend. Did it feel good? Of course. However, I wasn’t going to let the moment get away without getting to the bottom of the situation.

“Why,” I asked, “is a kindergartener popular?”

“Because he doesn’t hit anyone,” they said.

That actually made a lot more sense than I was prepared to hear. Suddenly, popularity sounded kind of cool.


Whit HoneaRead more from Whit Honea at his site Honea Express and the popular group blog DadCentric. You can follow Whit on the Twitter or Pinterest (his opinions are his own and do not reflect those of Babble or most rational people).


More on Babble

About Whit Honea


Whit Honea

Whit Honea is an award-winning writer living in the greater Los Angeles area with his wife, two boys, and too many pets. His personal blog, Honea Express, is updated quarterly (give or take.) Read bio and latest posts → Read Whit Honea's latest posts →

« Go back to Dad

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, profile photo and other personal information you make public on Facebook (e.g., school, work, current city, age) will appear with your comment. Comments, together with personal information accompanying them, may be used on and other Babble media platforms. Learn More.

4 thoughts on “What Makes Kids Popular?

  1. Trish Smith says:

    LOL I love that – “he doesn’t hit anyone”. Oh, if only adulthood were that easy…

    My son (age 8) walks this weird sort of tightrope between being popular and being the kid no one can figure out (maybe the two are related? Everyone loves a mystery, amirite?). His Asperger’s makes him somewhat less attuned to the social and interpersonal cues than a neurotypical kid his age, but what’s funny is that it’s sort of helped him. He doesn’t really notice the subtle, sophisticated undercurrent to his peers’ relationships, and so he just goes along, happy as a clam, doing his thing. He’s kind of a weird kid anyway (unrelated to the Asperger’s, and he gets it from me); but he’s able to just push through kids’ natural blocks (yeah, even at that age they seem to have them) and be himself. I think that’s actually made him more liked; kid’s can smell bullshit and falseness a mile away, and with J, what you see is what you get – and kids seem to respond to that.

    Of course, I don’t know what middle and high school hold for him; he might begin to struggle with relationships because of his diagnosis, but it’s been my experience that the people who don’t concern themselves with what others think tend to actually draw more people to them – whether it’s their confidence or something else, it’s an attractive quality.

    All that to say – I think our kids will do just fine :)

  2. Mitch Moore says:

    I think you and I had the same high school experience. :^) I think the challenge is for kids to grow up being comfortable with who they are, whatever that is. It’s nice to be popular, but if we parents can give our kids a loving foundation for appreciating who they are, even in the face of unpopularity, I think that will save thousands of dollars in therapy for them as adults. :^)


  3. Mindy says:

    I think “popularity” can be a lot of different things in different communities. Overall though in general, I think it is pushed and agged on by parents..sometimes primarily by mom (but not always). Whether by pushing them into “the sport” worshiped by the town/city/community, or only dressing them in the trendiest clothes and telling them “these jeans make you the cutest”. Hence why I belive little girls clothing has gotten so slutty; there is a always a new cycle of mom who want their daughters to be the “IT girl”.
    As odd as this may sound coming from a woman I’m GLAD I’m expecting a boy! I know they still come with their own challenges but they don’t seem to be as extreme as this upcoming generation of girls.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *.

Previous Post Next Post