The Science of Teenage Popularity

Many parents have had the experience of seeing a kid change seemingly overnight from a child who doesn’t worry about things like status and popularity to a teenager who is obsessed with this stuff. It can be baffling when teens start to suddenly care deeply about things like clothes, hairstyles, and social media.

Thankfully there is a scientific explanation for why this change occurs and there are some simple things parents can do to help teens keep this popularity craze in check.

Mitch Prinstein has spent his career studying status, popularity, and adolescent behavior–so he’s the perfect individual to teach us these lessons. In his fascinating book, Popular: The Power of Likability in a Status-Obsessed World, Mitch explains what he has learned through decades of research.

Interestingly, Mitch said that popularity is actually a good thing in many ways. People who are more popular in high school go on to be more successful, have better relationships, and enjoy their lives more when they hit their 30’s and beyond. So you don’t want your teenager to completely disregard popularity.

But there is an important difference to be aware of. Research shows there are actually two types of popularity: likability and status. You want your teen to be liked by his or her peers but you don’t necessarily want your teen to have high status.

What should you say to a teenager to help him or her navigate this stuff? What important things do you need to know about popularity as a parent?

And, finally, how might your own popularity (or lack thereof) when you were in high school still be influencing your parenting today?

All of that and more is covered on this episode of the podcast.

As an example of how to put this into practice with your own teenager, I developed a word-for-word script you can use for inspiration (or even just memorize). To download it free now, enter your first name and email below. I’ll also show you how to sign up for my free 10-day email course that reveals the secret method behind the word-for-word script. And I’ll even hook you up with a free trial membership to the entire website!

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About Mitch Prinstein

The John Van Seters Distinguished Professor of Psychology and the Director of
Clinical Psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Mitch received his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Miami and completed his postdoctoral fellowship at Brown. He serves as the Editor for the Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology and is the author of the book Popular: The Power of Likability in a Status-Obsessed World.

Mitch is also the Co-Editor of, has offered dozens of invited talks on a wide variety of professional development topics, and has written extensively with advice about professional milestones. He has co-written and edited several professional development books, blogs, and websites.

He was selected as a recipient of the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students Raymond D. Fowler Award for professional development of graduate students.

Mitch’s most important contributions to the field have involved teaching and mentoring students interested in psychology. He also maintains a very large lab of undergraduate students, postbaccalaureate assistants, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows, and he is strongly committed to the advancement of their careers.

Follow Mitch on Twitter here.

About Andy
Andy Earle is a researcher at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, where he studies adolescent risk behavior and the role of parents in helping teens thrive. He publishes papers and speaks to groups of parents about the science of talking to teens. Reach him any time at [email protected]
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