Can helping young people to recognise the value of difference enable more success in their adult life?

May 21, 2021

In popular films and media there are recognisable characteristics of social groupings portrayed in secondary schools. These are often formed around groups of young people who have similar personalities or sense of self-image.

Though these tropes are highly delineated within films, they exist because there are recognisable social groupings within secondary schools. In popular culture, the classic delineations are of jocks (confident sporty types), lovees, (theatrical extroverts), geeks (intellectual extroverts), nerds (intellectual introverts) and the more niche groupings such as the goths, (more outside the box thinkers).

Each grouping finds it easy to identify the failures of the other groups. The jocks are shallow and uncreative, the lovees are too emotional and attention-seeking, the geeks are immature and unrealistic, the nerds are boring and insular, the goths are just ‘weird’.

Can the same groups recognise the strengths of these other groupings? Is there value in supporting them in such questioning at this age?

As an adult I know exactly which of my friends and colleagues to go to if I need advice or help with something. Some of my close friends now were at my secondary school with me but I would not have had many conversations with them in secondary school. We were comfortable in different social circles. It took many years as an adult to work this out and value our difference in an explicit way.

If I wanted to sell things I would want the jocks on my team; they are socially able and goal/success orientated. If I wanted to create a platform which will engage a large number of people then I would approach the lovees. If I wanted someone to bring enthusiasm to a topic I would approach a geek. If I did not understand how something worked or the nuances of something complicated I would approach a nerd. If I needed some innovative no nonsense thinking, take me to the Goth!

Often in adult life it is as important to have realistic valuations of others as it is of yourself.

The young people I have worked with are all very aware of these groupings. I worked with a ‘popular’ girl who easily identified with the character Regina George from the film, “Mean Girls”. Regina is a character who is controlling, deceiving, belittling and mean, capable of doing everything in her power to get what she wants. Through exploring the resiliences and challenges this character presents in relating to the world, this girl, my client, was able to be more accepting of who she is and more able to think in a more generous way about some of the other girls in her year whom she had previously experienced as provoking.

I can see huge value in supporting young people to begin to reflect on the importance and value of difference. If an adolescent is able to recognise how their peers value their own individuality, it will make it easier for the individual to value their own differences.

Talk to Kate.