Social Hierarchy

Well. Apparently Facebook is rife with heated discussion amongst the parents in my area. I wouldn’t know, I’m not on there (couldn’t take the drama), but it’s made its way down the grapevine. Parents are up in arms over the common core standards debate and the bullying situation at our local Jr. High. Recently our tiny town made the news when a would-be shooter was turned in with a stock pile of weapons and a kill list containing names of his bullies and those who failed to help him.

It all sounds controversial and terrifying, everybody is worried and scared — not a good combo. My articles for Goldfish Smiles are due in advance, so our local situation had not occurred when I wrote my over-the-word-limit novella about conflicts from my youth and letting my kids fight their own battles. I’ve always had regret over a few situations from my youth. I was generally toward the lower end of the pecking order in elementary school, but usually not the absolute lowest. In 6th grade, I think there was only one ‘beneath’ me. I was horrible to her, and apologized later. We made our peace in high school, and I’ve always been so grateful for her forgiveness.

In high school I found more of a niche. I certainly wasn’t the bottom, but dwelt pretty firmly in the “Lower Cliques and Groups.”


This fun little image illustrates the social structure of my high school years — at least from my point of view. Each group had its own sub groups, and there were probably total loners and rebels that refused to be associated anywhere. I find it interesting that if you were smart, in honors classes, and had upper-middle class parents who could keep you in the latest fashions and provide you with a decent looking car, you were pretty much golden. Nerds were safe as long as they were smart. It was the ‘stupids’ who were in the lower tiers, and those of us who were smart, but lacked the right clothes and the right car.

Cheerleaders weren’t in the top tier, at least not most of them. The drill team and dance club girls were, though. Choir was decently ‘cool’ though there was lots of crossover there. Band remained ubiquitously dorky, unfortunately. What did your school cliques look like?

The whole thing is really rather fascinating to me. I’d love to interview people from all the groups today and find out how they feel about their high school experience.

My Goldfish Smiles post isn’t really about bullying, per se. It’s more about wishing I had a bit more brains in my head as a kid. I wish I’d treated Janet better. I wish I’d not been such an idiot when it came to Annie. (All names changed, by the way). I wish I’d been less of a self preserving fence sitter and a more proactive brave-type person. But man, I don’t know. Did school feel like a battlefield to you? I’ve always wondered what it felt like to really popular people. Were they aware of the pecking order? Grateful they weren’t at the bottom? Afraid to make a stand or just above it all?

In my schools it didn’t really seem like those at the top were doing the bullying and teasing like it often appears in the movies. The golden children seemed more blissfully unaware. At least to me. By highschool I had a few friends in all the ‘groups’ mostly due to growing up with some of the higher ranked folks. My friend Ginger (real name) made a stand for me when I was getting bullied pretty cruelly in Jr. High. She got a couple of other really high ranking individuals to go to bat for me and shut that crap right down. Their power was pretty awe inspiring, and I was grateful for friends in high places.

Looking back, I wish I had had that kind of power to stand up for people in terrible situations, but I knew if I’d opened my mouth, I only would have incurred the attention and subsequent wrath from the bully. I simply wasn’t ranked high enough. Poor George, he got thrown out of the boys swim locker room naked every morning for years. He hid behind a trash can up against the vending machine. I did nothing.

Well. These posts for Pepperidge Farm always get me thinking, and they only want so many words. So you get the brunt of the rest of it. Here’s an excerpt:

Our number one goal is the safety and well-being of our children. If there was a serious bullying situation or abuse going on, my husband and I would not hesitate to pull on the gloves. But for the most part the small disagreements, arguments, and even altercations between friends can be dealt with in a kind and level-headed manner.

Click to read more →

And since no one likes to comment over there (thanks Facebook integration!) come back here and tell me what you think. Bonus points if you read both gigantic posts. xo


  1. Sharon says

    I’d probably fall in the same category as you. At my school (I’m Canadian), we didn’t have cheerleaders, we did have a few sports teams, but we didn’t have a prom or anything like that, so it’s hard for me to say what our hierarchy was like. I was definitely one (very small) rung up from the bottom, though. I was bullied a lot in elementary and high school, but I was also friends with some of the more popular people in high school, because I was in drama classes. Those friendships didn’t really help the bullying at all, unlike your situation. I mostly flew under the radar, though, and tried to be as inconspicuous as possible. I counted down the days until my graduation, when I could get the heck out of there. It always breaks my heart when I read of teen/kids who have committed suicide or done other things because they felt so desperate and alone. I’ve definitely been there.

    • Jessica says

      Flying under the radar seems key for those of us in the lower school classes. My husband was pretty brilliant at that. One of the quieter kids, he just knew how to turn into wallpaper if there was ever a conflict or a meanie on the loose.

      I agree. Those people who are like, “They should learn how to toughen up!” must’ve never been on the receiving end of some of this crap. Aren’t we glad we’re past that stage? It’s kind of amazing how big the scars can be though.

  2. Michelle @ needle and nest says

    Looking back, I must have fallen somewhere in the same tier as you. I didn’t really have a group to belong to, though. Fortunately, I must have been inconspicuous enough that high school wasn’t really unpleasant for me.

    I found your posts (yep, I read them all!) to be really thought-provoking. My own daughter is in Kindergarten and she’s already experiencing difficulties with friendship. She’s the odd-girl out in a friendship threesome and there have been many nights when she’s ended up in tears over it. The other girls do things to purposely exclude her and as her mother it’s just so heart-breaking to hear her relate what happens between her and her friends.

    I’m trying not to get involved, other than as a sympathetic ear and advisor. I don’t want to be a meddling mother, yet I deeply wish I could fix this for her. Unfortunately, I can’t be there every day, and even if I could it wouldn’t be good for her to be a referee. I’ve been telling her to hang out with some of the other kids and we talk a lot about how true friends should act. I’m just hoping that summer vacation will help.

    Man, this whole friendship thing is tough sledding.

    • Jessica says

      Threesomes are the worst. Especially with girls. I lived in a culdesac growing up and there were three of us girls, all the same age, living in that circle. It was impossible for all three of us to do something fun together all at once. It was pretty amazing. One on one with just two of us, fantastic. Add the third, and it was conflict / war city. So sad, I hope your sweetie has a wonderful summer vacay!

  3. Jen Wilson says

    I was teased/bullied in my small private “Christian” school to the point that I’d fake sick so I could stay home. When I got to the big (only) high school in grade 11, the bullying disappeared. Small fish in a big pond, I guess. Funny how that happens. There was a LOT of bullying in the former, and none that I was aware of in the latter. Or, maybe there was just very little and it flew under the radar. I knew of a kid who was made fun of, but I don’t know that it was ever to his face, just behind his back. Which, you know, isn’t awesome, but better than torturing him.

    And this is why I will never ever put my kids in a small private Christian (or “Christian”)(THERE IS A DIFFERENCE) school.

    And, I really like your Goldfish Smiles post and totally agree. My mom stepped in a few times and it NEVER made things better, only worse. But, those were in “tame” bullying situations, nothing like some of the kids are dealing with now. Can I just say how THANKFUL I am that I grew up in a generation without internet and Facebook and cell phones texting? I just hope my kids can survive growing up *with* those things.

    • Jessica says

      Lots of parents seem to think smaller private school = better friendship situation. Man, I have heard a lot of horror stories from this camp.

      Poor Janet’s mother. I totally understand how she was feeling now, wanting to step in and fix it. But it ever helped, we were so clueless! And poor Janet just wanted to be liked so it wasn’t like she was going to stand up for herself. Ugh. I can’t believe how mean and thoughtless little kids can be sometimes :(

      I KNOW, can you even imagine? My uncle who is a coach was telling me about a problem he has on the buses when his team goes away for off-campus games. The cheerleaders and the football players get together on the back and it’s like an oral sex orgy. WITH CAMERA PHONES. I think they separated the cheerleaders or wouldn’t let them come on away games or something, but holy freaking crap, I can’t even.

      • Jen Wilson says

        I can SO imagine. I remember trips with my CHRISTIAN YOUTH GROUP where hooking up would be happening in the back seats and the chaperones were CLUELESS. Granted, this was again without the internet or camera phones, but my kids are SO NOT GOING ON THOSE TRIPS. Or hopefully they’re smarter and raised better than I was.

      • Tracey says

        I purposely chose the public school for my kids over the Catholic school down the street. I hated how “small” that school was and how every kid knew what every other kid in the school was doing. I like the anonymity of public school and the multiple classes per grade. I think kids really get to be themselves in this situation.

  4. Tracey says

    I think mine was different because I went to Catholic School. We didn’t have the division of religion to deal with. The most popular kids were the jocks and cheerleaders. Most of the cheerleaders also danced so there you go. Because I went to private school it was definately a situation of have and have not. If you had money, and lots of it, you were cool. If you didn’t have money you weren’t cool. I mostly hung out with a small group from the drama club and ignored everything else that was going on.

    Funny enough, I ran into a girl from grade school and high school that I haven’t seen since she left the high school in our senior year. I asked her why she left and she said that she couldn’t handle seeing all the drugs anymore. She said it was either start using them due to peer pressure or get out. I was so not cool in high school that I didn’t even know about all the drug parties, thank goodness.

  5. Heather says

    In high school I had a few close friends. I sorta mingled through groups, I was friends with the jocks, the stoners, the skaters, the cheerleaders, the hicks, the “extreme” Christians and the smart kids.Then there were always the mean/cool girls that made you feel socially awkward. Unforgettably, I had a few enemies on yearbook….and I as I look back, I guess I should have realized that that was a mistake. Now I have a book filled with my high school most awkward moments… Ha! (side note: The “yearbook girls” asked to be friends on facebook, and without thinking (so me) I sent a picture that they put in the yearbook and replied “probably not” – I know I should just forgive and forget. But that one I might hold to the grave ;)
    But I guess what I think is funny is that things haven’t really change. I mean… even though we are all “adults” there is still this SOCIAL HIERARCHY. The mean/cool girls, the smarties, the extreme Christians, the hicks and those of us that sorta just wander around. As adults we may just not notice it as much. We are just more comfortable with where we are.

    • Heather says

      Just to add that they pictures were really awful…I’ll give you a sample of one of the least offensive picture caption’s : “Heather Mowers’s Mow’s down a hamburger the size of her head”….The picture was of me literally shoving a giant cheese burger into my mouth. Mind you… least offensive…. :)

      • Jessica says

        I should have a whole side column in that little graphic for the ‘drifters’ that manage to find places to fit in anywhere and nowhere all at once.

        The teacher over our yearbook staff was pretty good at making sure nothing like that happened — I was approached a few times by one of the photographers who held out a photo and said, “Mr. (whatever his name was) wants me to get your permission before I can put this in the yearbook.” I said ‘no’ twice.

        However, all my highschool yearbooks make most of us seem pretty non-existent. There was one golden child, we’ll call her Annette, who is on almost every single page, many in full color spreads. She was super popular and was in everything and at everything going on, so I see how that happens, but it would be interesting to have a yearbook that more thoroughly documented a wider variety of groups and people.

        I’m laughing out loud over your facebook friend denial. I know it’s dumb but I have a hard time remembering that hopefully we’ve *all* grown up, even those who did the torturing. I’ve been known to duck and hide if I see someone I went to high school with. It’s crazy how all those weird feelings can come rushing back even though those days are long gone and far behind us.

  6. Sally says

    I really enjoyed reading this. So strange the heirarchy and classifications that is high school. SO glad that’s over! I also really enjoyed the Goldfish article. I’ve had to be really careful to butt myself out of my child’s arguments, as I have a natural instinct to take over situataions. I’ve learned it’s important for them to sort things out on their own, then if it’s still a problem, parent intervention all the way. (Mostly to help guide them to a good solution, not to solve it for them) Anyways, I am still laughing at your description of janet’s Mom. Terrifying. Especially the shoulder pads. LOL

    • Jessica says

      I can still shut my eyes and see those formidable shoulder pads. With her short, severe, permed red hair, it’s a picture forever emblazoned on my brain!

    • Jessica says

      And you know, she probably didn’t even really holler or scream. I know she got down in front of my face, though, and I FELT yelled at. Terrifying.

  7. Cosette says

    That looks about the same as my high school social heirarchy, with the exception of the drill team. They were ranked pretty low. There was no other dance group, or classes in my large Washington high school.
    I would have put myself in that drifter column. I started out as a wild partier, then became converted to the faith I grew up in and had this difficult transition phase. After that I was labeled as the rich snob type because I was hesitant to make ties to people who would pressure me to go against my new moral standards. I wasn’t rich, but our house was pretty grand and my closest friend was quite wealthy, which contributed to the snob tag. Man, high school was complicated.

    • Jessica says

      It’s really hard for me to picture you a partier, Cosette! I might require photographic evidence, though I’m still trying to get Tracy to show me a photo of the days when she had a blue mohawk. That’s equally difficult to believe :o)

      Money seemed to go a really long way at my school — but there were some kids, girls I think, who got their tires slashed if their cars were too nice… or maybe that had more to do with jealousy / unrequited stalkerish love. Creepy, though.

  8. Cosette says

    WHAT!? A blue Mohawk! Hey Tracy, now that the world has seen your BIG curly hair days it’s time to dig into this blue mohawk.
    Sometimes I forget that we all have a past. I think I destroyed the photographic evidence of mine when I became a mother.

  9. Kate says

    I loved these posts. I don’t think I really thought about high school as a hierarchy so much, though I see now that it probably existed. I think it was different than yours though–notably, I don’t think there were enough kids who were NOT in the “party, drinking, drugs, sex” (or at least a couple of those) to warrant their own category! I’m pretty sure all our prom “royalties” would have fit in your “wild” category, but they weren’t really considered wild. This was in Virginia, and sex and drinking weren’t really considered immoral (as long as you were “smart” about it.) Being smart was definitely redeeming in many cases, but not required for popularity by any means.

    Anyway, I think I was probably a floater and maybe that’s why I didn’t see the hierarchy. I for sure knew some kids were cool and others weren’t, but that’s about as far as my understanding went! I got along with most everyone, and had a couple of circles that considered me pretty much a part of them. (Except they didn’t invite me to a lot of their parties because they knew I wasn’t into what they’d be doing there!)

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