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Student populations of high schools divide into
small groups: “in” groups and “out” groups. In-group
adolescents are those most accepted by and closest to teachers and
administrators. In general, they get better grades, participate in more school
and extracurricular activities, are chosen more frequently for responsible
school duties, such as the newspaper or school plays, and unfortunately more or
less exclusively come from a higher socioeconomic class. Out-group adolescents
are less involved in school activities and extracurricular activities, do less
well academically, are less favored by teachers and administrators, and are
less frequently chosen for special responsibilities. There is even a small
number of teenagers who are the most “in” of the in groups and a few
who are most “out” of the out groups. This high school social
structure works against equal education, equal opportunity, and equal
experience for all. There are exceptions to this pattern, but nonetheless, it
is quite prevalent.

How do you help your child become a member of in
groups in her high school, and thus receive the benefits of increased social
acceptance, increased school and extracurricular participation, and increased
acceptance by teachers and administrators? The harsh reality is there is very
little you can do once your child is in high school. your adolescent is pretty
much on her own in terms of social involvement, acceptance, and participation.

There is, however, a good deal you can do in
terms of understanding and influencing her activities. You can insist she do
her homework and participate and achieve consistently with her abilities. You
can support her participation in school functions and activities. You can, for
example, be sure she has time and transportation to participate in play
practice, the high school band, FFA, or the like. You can help remove any
barriers to participation. Yes, you may think you have started operating a taxi
service. This is, though, one of the things you can do. In addition, you can
develop a real understanding of the major adolescent pastime, “hanging

What is hanging around? It is when teenagers are
not really doing anything specific, not working on any projects, not getting
into any real mischief or difficulty, and not doing anything important. They
are just hanging around. The payoff in hanging around is just being together.
Music is an important background for hanging around; so is relative privacy
from adults. To a limited extent, younger children are irrelevant and adults
are the enemy. Adults are the people who make them study, criticize them, set
limits, hold expectations, like to nose into their business, and do not really
appreciate the art of hanging around. Does it help if you understand and
appreciate hanging around? Yes, it helps your adolescent quite a lot.

At times, your adolescent wants to spend time
just hanging around with her friends. Be less rigid in expecting her to come
right home from school, or explain everything she does when out with friends. Be
a little more understanding when told she went nowhere and did nothing with no
one. Be a little more understanding when she talks on the telephone for an hour
“about nothing.” She was just hanging around by phone.

You can set some limits on where and when your
adolescent is allowed to hang around and with whom. You can say, “Hanging
around is fine, but you cannot hang around there.” You can say, “I
definitely prefer you do not hang around with this particular individual.”
If you are willing to give reasons, calmly and straightforwardly, she will
usually respect your wishes (unless you have waited until she is identified
with the individual).

This only works occasionally. If you find
yourself frequently telling your adolescent whom she can and cannot associate
with, where she can and cannot hang out, you gradually find yourself and your
suggestions being less accepted. Remember your adolescent is nearly fully

You can influence where, when, and with whom
your adolescent forms associations more directly. Encourage him to have his
friends come over so you can get to know them before passing judgments. Encourage
him to be involved in church groups and other organized activities. Help him
organize a party or group activity. To the extent you reasonably can, make
certain he has the necessary money and resources. Be sure he has time to
participate in activities. It is not reasonable, for example, to expect him to
baby-sit his younger brother every weekend night. Many activities take place on
weekend nights. If your adolescent always has to stay home, the opportunity for
healthy social involvement is limited. Yes, it is unreasonable for him to stay
out all night or even for him to stay out late without your permission.
It is also unreasonable to expect him to always come straight home from ball games
or other school activities, with no opportunity to hang out with his friends.

In short, assure your adolescent has the
resources, opportunities, and parental encouragement necessary for
participation in acceptable school and community activities. Be tolerant of
hanging around, whether at your house, someone else’s house, a teenage hangout,
or over the phone. Set some limits about where and when he is allowed to hang
out and which activities he can participate in. Occasionally, you can influence
who he chooses to associate with. Yes, your adolescent really is beyond
parental control; but parental influence within a healthy and open relationship
is still both possible and very much wanted by your adolescent. Most children
want to please you, want you to like their friends, want you to be interested
in their activities, and will behave not only acceptably but in ways making you

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