In an attempt to explore what’s currently hip ‘n’ happening with young folks, I conducted a couple of interviews this week. Jill (pseudonym) is a 17-year-old music-loving female about to complete her final year of schooling. Jack (also a pseudonym… could you guess?) is a 14-year-old sports-and-video-game loving male, almost finished Year 9. I thought it might be interesting to compare two different perspectives.Due to the number of questions and the length of the interview responses, this is the SECOND in a series of four separate posts that report on these interviews.
In this segment, we explore how young people know what’s IN (“grin”) and OUT (“pout”)… and how important is it anyway?
How do you find out what’s “in”?
Jack: I don’t know. A lot goes on at school, conversations and stuff.
Jill: My friends. Everyone just seems to know little things. You pick up things here and there in conversation. Also TV and magazines like Dolly and Girlfriend. All you do is read it each month and you know.
ME: So do you always believe what you read in magazines?
Jill: No I think a lot of it is silly like having a dress that’s “in” one month and not even visible the next month, it’s still OK to wear it. Even if it’s not the same as what’s in now.
How important is it for young people to stay current with popular trends?
Jack: It would be easier to make friends if they like what everyone else likes. They don’t have to like all the stuff but … yeah.
Jill: Well people need to be current to a certain extent so they’re not walking around looking really, really bad. They need to know what goes together. Some people need help with that. Otherwise they get unwanted attention and that causes bad self-esteem. Everyone stares at them. But it doesn’t need to be a big deal. You can easily wear jeans and a T-shirt. A lot of the fashions in the mags look really stupid and they’re not convenient. A lot of the different cuts you see – a lot of people wouldn’t dress like that on a daily basis. For everyday, people just wear what they have in their wardrobes. It’s still normal to wear whatever. I don’t really follow all the fashion trends, but it just gives me an idea of the kind of things I like. A lot of the stuff I see I don’t like at all and it’s overpriced but it just gives me an idea.
What makes a person “cool” or “not cool”?
Jack: There are people who are just normal and then other people. Their choices make the difference, choices in everything – what they eat, what they do to their appearance, how they act, the people they hang out with and all that. I’m just happy being normal.
ME: So what do you mean by “normal” exactly? Who are the “other” people?
Jack: Well, at school, there’s the “cool” group, there’s the non-successful group and then there’s everyone else, like… most of us, who are just normal. The cool group think they’re cool. I don’t know why, they just do. The non-successful people… [pause] well I’m sure they’re successful at some things but… they just don’t look the part or act the part. There’s only a few of them…
ME: …who just don’t seem to fit in anywhere?
Jack: Yeah. But everyone else is normal. That’s most people.
What makes a person “cool” or “not cool”?
Jill: Their fashion, what they wear, and how they behave. Some people just know what to say at the right time – they know all the comebacks; they’re laid back. Like, they just shrug it off if they get into trouble. How they style their hair is a big thing. Also who you hang out with has a big impact on how others see you. If you have friends who are cool that automatically makes you cool too.
ME: How important is this distinction in society?
Jill: (Big pause). Well…. No one wants to be a loser.
ME: But who decides?
Jill: It just happens. People just form cliques. People just want to be loved and noticed …in the right way. People want to have fun and they think, if you’re in the cool group, you get invited to all the cool parties.
ME: Do you people in the cool group have more fun?
Jill: Not really. To be honest I don’t think I’d be happier in one of those groups – there’s a lot of pressure to live up to their standards. I just love my group now. In those groups they’re always having fights and arguments. There’s a lot of bitching and bullying that goes on in those groups. There are people who really don’t like each other. I know a lot of try-hards who want to be in the cool group though.
I’m interested to explore further what role gender plays here. I have a feeling that girls tend to form cliques more readily than boys and rely on subtle “exclusivity” strategies to include or exclude individuals. Jack’s responses seem to indicate that the boys he has contact with are a more homogenous group. A small group consider themselves apart, a few struggle to fit in, but most identify as members of the large group. They form close friendships with a few individuals but freely associate with a wider group of peers rather than forming more exclusive and clearly defined cliques.
Jill’s response indicates the existence of many smaller social groups that are consistently maintained and tightly-knit. Rather than flow freely among many friendship groups, individual girls identify with a particular social group and are pressured to maintain affinity with that group exclusively. According to Jill, many girls seem to be caught up in a perpetual struggle to be identified with a “cool” group due to the (perceived) preferably social opportunities this membership offers them.
Incidentally, Jack attends a co-ed school whereas Jill goes to an all-girls school.
Perhaps these contrasting social contexts have some bearing on the experiences that are described here?
I wonder if Jill would respond differently if she had experienced a co-educational setting….?
Featured Image: “In-N-Out Burger (Millbrae)” [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] by Scott Beale on Flickr