How High School Stereotypes Hurt Teens
Updated November 18, 2019
Medically Reviewed By: Kristen Hardin
Teenagers entering high school are intensely aware of negative stereotypes. These might include stereotypes about gender, sexuality, ethnicity, religion, and even extracurricular activities. Most students feel the need to find a place where they belong, and almost every student ends up in at least one group or another, so they have to deal with the stereotypes associated with this group. For example, the cheerleaders may be considered dumb. Then, the smart kids may be considered uptight, perfect, and not fun, while the outcasts are thought of as the ones who use drugs and don't care about school. All of these stereotypes are harmful, and there are many more that exist in high school.
What Are High School Stereotypes?
High school stereotypes are boxes that teachers or peers put teenagers in. Because teens spend their high school years learning about themselves, they may end up believing some of the negative stereotypes that are thrust upon them during these developmental years.
High school students are not the only ones to blame for these stereotypes. Teachers, administrators, and even parents play a role in reinforcing them as well. Furthermore, social media's impact on societal norms has increased the negative impact of stereotyping in American high schools today.
Think of the movies and television shows about teens and the growing influence of social media. In The Breakfast Club, a movie from the 1980s, we can find examples of the stereotypical burnout, not to mention the athlete, the nerd, the loser, and the princess. Unfortunately, these high school stereotypes are extremely harmful to high school students, increasing the risk of depression, suicidal ideation, and anxiety in students. They can also directly affect students' future career choices and opportunities as adults.
If your child is struggling with stereotypes, you're not alone. With the right support, your teen can overcome them. In this article, we'll talk about high school stereotypes, how they hurt teenagers, and what you can do to help.
Stereotyping by Teachers
Teens are not the only ones who perpetuate these stereotypes. Whether or not it's intentional, teachers and administrators sometimes play into this. For example, teachers may treat students differently based on the groups they belong to.
One study found that, when teachers preferred Asian-Americans over African-Americans and Latinos because of the stereotypes that Asian-Americans are more academic successful, the other minority students lashed out against the Asian-Americans. This caused tension and bullying among the minorities as they fought to avoid being stereotyped.
High School Stereotypes Lead to Bullying
Another study found that stereotypes and biases are some of the biggest contributors to high school bullying. Students stereotype other students as being weak, weird, or any other category. To make matters worse, aggressive students often base their dislike and bullying of other students on these stereotypes.
Many studies have attempted to understand the problems in high schools that lead to bullying. Over the past few decades, bullying has become a much bigger problem, so education efforts have been made to increase awareness and put a stop to bullying.
High School Stereotypes Lead to Stress and Anxiety
The stereotypes associated with different demographics often cause increased stress and anxiety related to academic success. One study showed that racism at school has a negative impact on students' mental health. Unfortunately, this kind of stereotyping suggests that some minorities are less willing or able to learn.
When these high school stereotypes are at play, minority students might feel intense pressure to succeed and prove everyone wrong. As such, they often work much harder at academics and put more effort into extracurricular activities. The intense pressure they place upon themselves ultimately increases stress and anxiety. Later, this can lead to breakdowns in behavior, mood changes, depression, or suicidal ideation.
Stereotypes Lead to Isolation
As we saw in The Breakfast Club, there are a great many well-known cliques or groups. However, some students do not fall into any of these predetermined groups. In other words, the high school stereotypes portrayed by the media are what students, parents, and administrators expect, but they do not encompass all students.
When a student is not stereotyped by any of the established groups or minorities, they may become isolated and disenfranchised. Consider a heterosexual, white male student who doesn't excel in sports, doesn't have an interest in particular extracurricular activities, and doesn't excel academically--that student likely doesn't have a place to where they feel like they fit in.
In this situation, the subsequent isolation can be quite harmful to the teens. They often feel like they don't belong in the school or in society in general. It can be a huge blow to their self-esteem, causing them to isolate or engage in risky behaviors to fit in with one of the groups. Once again, it may also lead to depression and suicidal ideation.
Stereotypes Lead to Identity Confusion
High school students are just discovering and developing their identity. When they're placed in a stereotypical group, they may lose a part of their current or future identity. For example, a student may feel pressure to conform to societal standards, so they fit in with the crowd at the cost of expressing all of their personality.
This harms teens when it becomes difficult for them to develop personalities and identities without significant influence from other students, parents, teachers, and administrators. When their true identity is questioned by peer pressure and stereotyping, it can lead to frustration, confusion, and emotional distress.
High School Stereotypes and Test Scores
High school stereotypes of African-Americans have been found to affect high-stakes standardized test scores directly. When these minorities are stereotyped as being unable to succeed, it greatly affects their self-esteem and confidence, which in turn affects their performance on standardized tests. Some of these tests, such as the SAT and ACT, have a direct impact on their future opportunities.
One study found that African-Americans consistently performed worse than white students on a test when they were told it would predict their success on a high-stakes standardized test. Researchers found that perceptions of ability, expected success, and related stereotypes greatly affected the outcomes of these tests.
Another study found that young women and African-Americans had similar results on standardized tests. These minorities were negatively stereotyped, which had a direct influence on self-esteem and anxiety about how they were viewed within the high school setting. This also led to low test scores on predictors of high-stakes standardized tests.
High School Stereotypes and Academic Achievement
Academic achievement can be directly related to stereotypes. For example, the "dumb jock" stereotype has been shown to have a negative impact on students, which can have a direct impact on the quality of education these students receive. The same can be said of stereotypes about ethnicity and gender. Teachers and administrators who assume that minorities are not going to perform as well as other students in schools may not make an effort to ensure that they receive the same quality of education.
Stereotypes in Future Career Choices
During high school, students begin thinking about future career choices, possible college attendance, and life after high school. Studies have shown that gender stereotypes have a direct impact on the future career plans of high school seniors. One such study showed that most female students did not choose career paths based on prestige, monetary potential, or ability to succeed, but rather on interest. The study suggested that this could be caused by gender stereotypes that say they're less likely to succeed in prestigious careers.
If your teen is struggling with high school stereotypes, there are some that might help them feel better.
Encourage journaling. Help your teen to understand the importance of expressing their emotions. A journal is a great way for them to express their feelings privately. When a teen has the opportunity to journal about their feelings, he or she can better understand stereotypes and may even be able to overcome them.
Support your child. You are your child's best source of support. Let them know that you care and are always there for them. This will help to improve self-esteem and will increase the chances that they'll come to you if they experience any issues in school.
Exercise together. Exercising is not only good for the body, but it's also good for the mind. Getting thirty minutes of exercise a day can help relieve any stress or overwhelmed feelings teens may have about being stereotyped at school.
How BetterHelp Can Help
If your teen has been negatively affected by high school stereotypes, it may be helpful for them to speak with a counselor who can help them identify and overcome the stereotypes that are affecting them. A counselor can also help them discover their true identity and unleash their true academic potential.
If your teen is showing signs of withdrawal, depression, or anxiety due to high school stereotypes, it's particularly important to seek help from a counselor who can help your teen learn to cope with the growing pressures of developing adulthood. It's always best to get help as quickly as possible to avoid suicidal ideation, risk-taking behaviors, and other behaviors that teens resort to when they're depressed or isolated.
As a final note, this article focuses on generalizations that are widespread in our society. The content does not apply to everyone, and not every school and student has these problems. This article is not meant to be conclusive, nor does it cover all stereotypes or problems in high school. It's meant to provide information for discussion and let those in need know there's help available. If you need help, considering reaching out to BetterHelp for online counseling.
Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people experiencing similar issues.
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High school stereotypes affect your teen in many different ways. With the right help, you can protect them and help them grow into a healthy adult. Don't let stereotypes damage their future or their opportunities - take the first step toward helping them have a resilient and fulfilling life today.