Research Explains How To Stop ‘Mean Girls’ Cliques From Starting
Mean girl groups, like the legendary Plastics, don’t exist because of parenting or wealth. They may be the result of school environments.
Researcher Daniel A. McFarland, a Stanford University professor of education, led a team investigating the “network ecology,” or organizational infrastructure, of high school.
They found large schools with more classes and diverse students led to cliques of like-minded people, a tendency scientists call “homophily.”
The increased freedom and a wide range of students made young people form groups with those most like them, creating like-minded cliques on the basis of social survival.
In smaller, more strict schools, students were less likely to form cliques. Students who became friends in rule-based, focused classes made friends based on intellectual ability and interests, rather than superficial characteristics. However, elite academic tracks mean limited diversity among the student body.
The team used two datasets to form the study. In order to make conclusions about friendship interactions on a class level, McFarland recorded two semesters of data from two different high school environments.
He relied upon the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health for data examining social interactions and friendships at a schoolwide level.
In a press release, McFarland said the information gleaned in the study is anything but conclusive. He said,
We’re not proposing that we all go to a forced boarding-school model. The truth is that we are not sure which kind of adolescent society is best for youth social development, let alone what position in them is best.
What’s more, McFarland says social interaction also depends upon each teenager, claiming,
What may work well for a shy child may not work well for a gregarious one, and neither solution may prepare them well for the realities of adulthood. We just need to study it and see.
However, McFarland hopes his study will help teachers begin to understand the way their classroom and school environments can affect their pupils.
School is formative in more ways than one.