Class clowns are no joke

A longitudinal study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign shows that the older pupils get, the less they approve of male classmates who are looked upon as class clowns. Specifically, boys who act mischievously to make their peers laugh in first grade (Year 2) start to be shunned for their behaviour by third grade (Year 4), and lose self-esteem.

Educational psychologist Lynn Barnett followed 278 children from kindergarten through to third grade (Year 1 to Year 4) to examine “playful” children’s perception of themselves and how others saw them as the school years progressed. To determine which children were the most “playful,” Barnett used the 23-item Children’s Playfulness Scale; surveys on teacher-, peer-, and self-rated social competence; and teacher-, peer-, and self-rated disruptive classroom behaviours, placing pupils named by at least 25% of their peers into the “playful” category.

She found that pupils in the first grade equally regarded girls and boys as class clowns, but by third grade, mostly boys were labelled as such, even when the girls still demonstrated playful behaviour. Although playful children were often popular in the early school years and saw themselves as having better social skills than others, by third grade the male class clowns were the ones likely to be played with the least, losing confidence and seeing themselves as socially incompetent. This is in sharp contrast to female class clowns, who did not lose popularity or self-esteem by third grade. One pattern of note was that in all Year groups, teachers did not view playful girls as negatively as they did playful boys. Dr Barnett discusses these implications, and teachers’ influence on the way male class clowns are perceived.

Source: The education of playful boys: class clowns in the classroom (March 2018), Frontiers in Psychology Volume 9, Article 232

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