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Mitch Prinstein is the John Van Seters Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, and a member of the Clinical Psychology Program. His book “Popular: The Power of Likability in a Status-Obsessed World” was chosen as the first-year student summer reading book.

His book explains how childhood popularity plays a key role in human development and how it still influences adults in their personal and professional lives.

“I wrote the book because people don’t often realize how important our popularity is in predicting so many different areas of our lives. In particular right now, I’m a bit concerned that our world is focusing us on the wrong kind of popularity when we should be focused on the kind that makes us happy and successful.”

Researchers have found that those people who were popular in high school are at greater risk for anxiety, depression, relationship problems and addictions. Meanwhile, the popularity that should be important is a kind that starts at a very young age.

“The kind of popularity that we should care about begins when we’re really young, about three or four years old, and it has to do with how much we’re well liked by others. How much we make other people feel happy, valued and included. That seems to be related to a whole host of positive outcomes, professionally, personally, and it even helps us live longer.”

Parents can encourage their kids not to rely on social media as a form of popularity as well.

“There’s a lot of research showing how there’s an inter-generational similarity between what parents go through in their social lives and what young adults go through as they kind of learn from their parents.”

Kids watch their parents as they go through their lives and draw inspiration on what popularity should look like. They learn and take messages from what parents value by looking at what parents value in their own adult relationships.

“Very often, teenagers will take what they’re doing offline and merely use it for fodder to increase the number of their followers online. That’s where parents can help kids reverse that damaging process.”