Some people call popularity “glory's small change.” They mean that when it comes to making a difference for others, big accomplishments can have lasting and glorious effects, while just going for popularity may bring in nothing more than a few cents. However, girls from middle school on can become too concerned with popularity. They notice a girl being admired by her clique for her looks, the way she acts, or her material possessions, including her BlackBerry and her iPad, and are dying to get more attention too.
With the proliferation of mobile phones, some girls now think their popularity rises with the number of texts they get. This development causes girls who get only a few messages to do a dumb thing: They post a sexually revealing picture of themselves on Facebook or send out a sext in hopes of getting more attention. They do get a result, but not the kind they want.
Tell your daughter never to text or post a photo that Grandma wouldn't approve of. This must be their yardstick: If it's fine with Nana, it's okay to get this picture out there. If Nana wouldn't approve, don't even think about sending it.
Dig a little deeper and you will find that your daughter actually finds little to admire about the Miss Popularity at her school. Perhaps she spends too much time in front of the bathroom mirror fixing her bangs and yaks mainly about “he said, she said” issues. In contrast, your girl likes to do more than repeat hearsay and has her own ideas. But even if she is intrigued by the most admired girl in her grade, the fascination will probably not last for long. Popularity at school ends with graduation, at which even the most gushed-over girl goes off to college — where she may become a small fish in a big pond and often is never heard from again.
Most girls who are swept away by the allure of popularity and become preoccupied with the approval of their peers are missing an important concept that can stabilize them even during uncertain times. The therapist and writer Dr. Mary Pipher calls this a girl's North Star. Other experts call it “anchor,” “focus,” or “center.” Whatever name is attached to this concept that guides a girl is unimportant. What is important is that your daughter has a core interest, a passion, a love for something that truly excites her. It may be her involvement with sculling or the Girl Scouts. It may be studying the effects of global warming in her backyard or starting a paperback give-away program with her English class.
Whatever your daughter has settled on as her centering activity, stand behind her and support her in a loving way. The drawing power of popularity and the urge to fit in with the popular crowd at her school will wane when your daughter has something in her life that is much more important to her. Trust her not to be blinded for long by girls who are still searching for a purpose in their teenage lives and by that clique swarming around them. She will eventually understand that these girls are attempting to feel good about themselves by finding safety in numbers.