Youth Culture Draft

Youth culture is the way adolescents live, and the norms, principles, and practices they share. “Adolescence is a tough and exciting time, with many biological, cognitive, and social/emotional challenges, as well as the potential for many accomplishments” (Mandel, 2012).Psychologists such as Erik Erikson theorize that the main goal throughout adolescence is to answer the question “Who am I?” In order to develop their identity, adolescents look for peers their own age to grow with and learn from. “Students struggle to understand who they are and where they fit in; they start to form their own identity in relation to others - a critical component of healthy social development” (Mandel, 2012). While they search for the identity that fits them best, this time of their lives is one filled with self-expression and sometimes, lack of conformity to societal norms. This lack of conformity often leads to how middle schoolers perceive what is “in” and what is “out”.

Middle schoolers are under constant peer pressure to “be cool” and “fit in.” Throughout this time of their lives, adolescents feel the need to conform to societal expectations.  This pressure can be overwhelming and cause some adolescents to rebel. Conformity is something that does not end in middle school - it is experienced throughout high school and college. “The goal of conformity is to use the social need of acceptance in a positive, influential way at a young age in hopes of creating a social "norm" worth following to enhance student learning” (Rivers, 2012).  Due to their lack of identity, adolescents struggle to understand where they fit in. “They start to form their own identity in relation to others - a critical component of healthy social development” (Mandel, 2012).

“Middle school students’ perceptions of popularity are often based on who they think is the most well-known” (Eder, 2002). This can vary from academic success to athletic success depending on what the school seems to prioritize. According to an account from an eighth grade student in What Every Middle School Teacher Should Know, there is a “social whirlwind” of statuses that “form and so quickly harden with every student in their place” (37). A student’s affiliation with a specific group such has jocks, populars, brains, normals and nonconformists “often reflect their self-concepts and feed into their personal belief systems” (What Every Middle School Teacher Should Know).

This culture of what and who is “in and out” can be seen in a fifth grade classroom this time of year. “The middle grades can be very tumultuous for students who are navigating profound and often complex changes” (Conklin, 2014; Manning & Bucher, 2012). As the transition into the middle school becomes a reality, the students are feelings so many different things. This is a substantial adjustment for fifth graders already facing so many changes. It creates a feeling of confusion and anxiety that already exists as they are faced with educational and interpersonal changes on top of the biological changes. Many of these students are handling the transition well, but others seem to be exploring their image.

I observed fifth grade students over the course of the last four weeks of school before they transition into middle school. Their concerns as they enter middle school are varied and the way they handle the stress that stems from these concerns also varies.  I observed that friendships and peer relations are extremely important because they begin to spend a significant amount of time within their social group. Throughout fifth grade, I have seen an increase in the importance of social status and who/what is “in” or “out.” It seems that there is also an increase in the need to be "cool". I observed more students dressing and talking alike, listening to similar music, eating similar food, showing interest in the same sports and activities than at any previous time. I also observed the students who “don’t fit in” making abrupt changes in their image.

One specific way I collected data about what fifth graders perceived as “being in” was through observing the “popular” students during lunch. All of the “popular” girls sat at one table. Consistent with my research, I observed that there are different types of popular students “including those who are highly aggressive (tough) and those who are highly prosocial” (Rodkin, Farmer, Pearl, & Van-Acker, 2000). The “popular” table was divided into two groups, the pretty girls and the athletic boys. These students seemed to set the tone for the rest of the cafeteria. The girls looked like clones of each other - slender, wearing tiny shorts with tight shirts and different colored converse. The boys also seemed to mirror each other; they wore basketball shorts with different soccer jerseys. Even their food seemed to match. Their conversations were based on their social media accounts and their exciting plans for summer. These students seem to be at the “top of the food chain.” They appeared to be untouchable and walked around the cafeteria with what appeared to be a sense of accomplishment, arrogance, and pride.

On the other side of the cafeteria sat the fifth grade students who didn’t quite “fit in.” Until the beginning of June there really weren’t any defined cliques, yet now they find themselves the outcasts. Not knowing how to deal with this change constructively, I noticed a drastic change in their outward appearance. They actively tried not to look like the popular kids. They wore sweatpants, regular t-shirts, dresses and capris. One student who I began to observe more closely really began changing her image. First she stopped dressing like the popular kids, then she dyed a streak of her hair bright blue. When I asked her what made her dye it blue, she replied “I want to stand out.” Not getting enough attention or recognition, this student decided to dye her entire head of hair bright blue. “If I won’t fit in, then I can be different” she told me. She also told me that her other teachers didn’t care enough to ask her why her hair was blue. Similar to this student, another student drastically changed his appearance. His once long hair that was always tied in a hair tie was now shaved on one side and long on the other. However, he continued to dress like the “popular” kids. These two children refused to conform with the social norms of their community. They actively searched for ways to discover and form their own identities and this is only the beginning of their journey of resistance to conformity.   

These students who are perceived as being part of the “out” crowd and refuse to conform to social norms are often faced with, and are influenced by, peer pressure and conformity. They will be faced with this struggle every day during their middle school experience. Although they are never alone in their search for their acceptance and self worth, they will ultimately feel that way. “The view of conforming has been seen as bad, but maybe it's something a lot more profound, that it changes the way you think” (Sparks, 2011).

The limitations of these observations are that they were done in a small upper class community where many of the students have been with each other since Pre-K. Also, all of the students played together at recess, regardless of the social structure of the cafeteria. It should also be noted that this was one fifth grade class that was observed for four weeks. My implications for learning going forward are that educators take the time to realize and acknowledge any sudden outward changes within students. They need to feel recognized and long for acceptance, whether or not they want to conform to societal norms.

    • Lorna McKenzie
      Lorna McKenzie

      Hi Antonia,

      This is clearly an important topic and one that has a huge impact.  I had a hard time coming up with my question and thesis.  I think I see yours, but can you clarify your thesis?  Is your essential question related to identity, popularity, or who's/in or out.  

      Also, you have this quote in the first and second paragraph: “Students struggle to understand who they are and where they fit in; they start to form their own identity in relation to others - a critical component of healthy social development” (Mandel, 2012)

      ​Two things I might suggest, are including material from the course (maybe I'm too literal, but it's in the rubric) and develop your implications for going forward.

      • Roberto Molina
        Roberto Molina


          I like your choice of topic.  So often popularity plays a role in the cognitive development of a child/adolescent.  Being "in" or "out" is a huge deal; especially in fifth grade.  I liked your arguments and found it to be relevant as it pertains to emotional development going into adolescence.  I agree with Lorna that you should seek to include some more course material.  Pages 36-38 of the Brown & Knowles text should give you what you are looking for.  Also, it might be helpful if you commented on the culture of the classroom along with the demeanor/mannerisms of the teacher.  Just a thought though... :-)   Have a great weekend.

        • Rebecca Italiano
          Rebecca Italiano


          I really liked your topic. I think it's very appropriate and fits today's middle schoolers.

          In your first paragraph, you stated,"Psychologists such as Erik Erikson theorize that t -- I would change that to say : "Psychologist, Erik Erickson, theorized that the..." 

          Also, in the next line you should make sure the i is lowercase in the word "in" because the sentence is not completed.

          "...answer the question “Who am I?” In order"

          change to:

          "answer the question, "Who am I?", in order to..."

          I really liked that you talked about limitations, that might be something I add in my paper too.

          I agree with Lorna and Roberto, the textbook has so much information that can support your claims.

          Nice job!!

          • Antonia Bueti
            Antonia Bueti

            Thank you Roberto, Lorna, and Rebecca for your feedback !

            I will include more of the textbook research in my paper, I think that is a good idea. Also, I should make my thesis clearer as to set up my paper better. 

            Rebecca, thank you for your edits!! 

            Lorna, I didn't notice! I meant to cut it out of the second paragraph and add it to the first but it must have copied instead of cut. Thank you!! 

            Roberto, thank you for the specific pages where I can find related materials. I will be sure to include your suggestion about the classroom culture in my final copy, I think that it is a great idea. 

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