It's natural for kids to become obsessed with appearance and consumed with self-doubt when puberty hits. And it's also a time when peer pressure escalates. "Although kids have always competed for status, there's more edginess, influenced by the winner-take-all mentality in our society," says Jane Shure, PhD, coauthor of Inside/Outside Self-Discovery Program for the Middle School Years (ToucanEd).
The meanness is also fueled by kids' hyper-connected culture. In a matter of seconds they can score winning points by harassing one another, spreading rumors, and sharing unflattering pictures via cell phones and the Internet. The extreme transparency of online social circles -- sites like MySpace and Facebook display the number of "friends" each user has and let users rank friends -- has ratcheted up social competition.
Kids also exploit today's plethora of consumer goods to gain cachet. While some just want to have items in common with classmates, others are bent on outdoing peers. Advertisers have always played to this, but, says Shure, today's sheer number of products can fuel kids' material status-seeking out of control.How Kids Are Losing Out