High school is a time when most teenagers are intensely concerned with the budding development of their identities. If you think back to your own adolescence, you probably remember wondering about who you were, how you would fit in, and what other people thought of you. These universal questions make teens especially vulnerable to negative stereotypes. And because bullying often takes place in adolescence, teens may encounter negative judgements about their gender, sexuality, ethnicity, religion, and even extracurricular activities.
For example, cheerleaders and athletes are often inaccurately labeled “dumb,” while kids who excel academically or participate in activities such as math clubs or chess teams may be considered “nerdy.” Likewise, kids who refuse to conform to the styles and preferences of their peers are at risk of being labeled “weirdos” or “outcasts.” Being socially branded with any stereotype can be harmful to a teen’s development and cause them to struggle with their mental health; luckily, online therapy can help improve teens' overall well-being and combat these harmful classifications.
So, in this article, we’ll explore the painful reality of negative classifications. We’ll also learn how to de-bunk these harmful myths and help teens with their mental health.
High school stereotypes are “boxes” into which teenagers may be placed by others. Although harmful classifications often originate from a student’s peers, fellow teens are not the only ones to blame. Teachers, parents, and other authority figures may play a role in reinforcing them as well. Or they might appear as gender stereotypes in media that are absorbed more passively. The ever-present nature of social media can also contribute to harmful classifications. As teens compare themselves to peers and celebrities alike through social media, it’s easy for kids to absorb harmful messages about themselves.
As mentioned above, teens are not the only ones who perpetuate school stereotypes. Whether intentionally or not, teachers and administrators may be guilty as well. For example, teachers may treat students differently based on their nationality, race, or ethnicity.
One study found that some teachers preferred Asian-American over African-American and Latino students because of the stereotype that Asian- American students are more academically successful. This preferential treatment caused students from other marginalized groups to lash out against Asian-American students. The result was tension and bullying among all groups as students fought to avoid being stereotyped.
Teachers may also play favorites and give preferential treatment to students who are perceived as more likable or more gifted than others. While these stereotypes do not typically involve a student’s gender or ethnicity, they can touch on other labels such as “teacher’s pet” or “nerd.” This sends a negative message to every student involved.
For example, the student who is receiving preferential treatment may feel pressured to behave in a certain way or present a certain identity to avoid disappointing authority figures. If a student is struggling with their mental health, with problems at home, or one of many other common teenage maladies, they may feel unable to confide in authority figures for fear of damaging their reputation and their social currency.
When we consider some of the problematic aspects of stereotypes as seen in the previous paragraph, it’s unsurprising that studies find strong connections between these classifications and bullying. For example, one study found that students may stereotype others as weak or weird due to social, cultural, or physical differences, students may stereotype other students as weak or weird. Aggressive students often base their dislike of other students on these judgements and they may discriminate against others accordingly.
Bullying can lead to feelings of intense stress and anxiety. Many people who were bullied in school often spend years struggling with the aftermath of the bullying they experienced, Because bullying typically attacks some facet of your identity— your appearance, your sexuality, your abilities or economic status— it’s hard to let go of the negative messages you receive about yourself. Sadly, however, it’s also too easy for teens to internalize those negative messages and believe that negative judgements define their identities.
Thus, it’s no surprise that many teenagers experience stress and anxiety as a result of bullying. As a result, organizations all around the world have launched anti-bullying campaigns to spread awareness, help kids cope, and eliminate bullying at the source. Likewise, most schools have anti-bullying initiatives in place and clear policies for what to do if a student is being bullied.
These programs are wonderful and they deserve all the support in the world. But as we support these efforts, it’s also important to remember that bullying often starts with judgements. So, if we want to eliminate bullying, we should cut it off at the source by debunking stereotypes and creating environments that are accepting and inclusive.
If you know a teen is struggling with harmful school stereotypes, there are several things you can do to help. One of the best things to do is let them know that you’re a safe person to talk to. Let them know that it’s okay to work through their feelings with you and that you’re there to listen and support them.
Teenagers may have a lot of questions about their identity and their place in the world, so be prepared to answer questions and help them navigate their feelings. Above all, remind them that it’s okay for them to be who they are and that they don’t have to conform to anyone’s preconceived notions. Whether you’re a parent, a teacher, or a concerned authority figure, you can provide valuable help and support for a teen who’s struggling.
You can also encourage them to participate in some other helpful activities such as journaling and exercising. Doing these activities together can help your teen feel supported and included. If you both want to discuss what you’ve journaled about, you can establish a safe environment to do so and make it fun, perhaps by going out for lunch or to a coffee shop.
If your teen doesn’t want to discuss what they’ve written, let them know that that’s okay too. Remind them that journals are the perfect place to express their private feelings and work out their inner struggles. Writing about these things is a wonderful way to understand and debunk false judgements while unpacking their feelings.
Likewise, exercising together is beneficial for the body and the mind. It doesn’t matter if you prefer to walk, run, swim, or play a sport like tennis. When you get your body moving, you stimulate the production of endorphins in the brain, providing a quick boost of adrenaline and positivity. Exercise can also feel like an accomplishment and this gives you and your teen an opportunity to feel proud of yourselves and what you’ve accomplished today.
As we’ve seen in the previous paragraphs, support from friends and family is invaluable. But parents and teachers shouldn’t be the only support system a teenager has. Adults and teens alike can benefit from therapy, so if your teen has been negatively affected by high school stereotypes, it may help them to speak with a counselor who can help them identify and overcome stereotyping. A counselor can also help them discover their authentic identity and unleash their academic potential.
If your teen is showing signs of withdrawal, depression, or anxiety due to high school stereotypes, it’s particularly important to find a counselor who can help them cope with the pressures of adolescence. Seeking help as quickly as possible is advised to avoid the chance of high-risk behaviors and suicidal ideation. And if you do notice that your teen appears to be struggling with suicidal thoughts, don’t hesitate to reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 1-800-273-8255.
Online Therapy Can Help Students
If you’re interested in helping your teen connect with a therapist, you may find it helpful to know that studies have found online therapy to be especially effective among students. The ability to seek therapy online in a confidential setting also increases the likelihood of teens engaging in therapy. One study of students found that teens with higher levels of psychological distress preferred online counseling to face-to-face counseling. The study also showed that online counseling was most often used by high school students to discuss sensitive personal topics.
As you can see from these examples, online counseling can help teens deal with sensitive topics such as high school stereotyping. But students are not always motivated to attend in-person counseling. This is where online therapy comes in. Your teen can access BetterHelp’s platform from the comfort and privacy of home. In addition, online therapy offers lower pricing than in-person therapy, because online therapists don’t have to pay for costs like renting an office. BetterHelp’s licensed therapists have helped high school students with many issues. Read below for some reviews of how BetterHelp therapists have helped with self-esteem.
“I really like working with Colleen. She’s genuine & understanding. I’ve only been doing therapy for about 3 weeks & she’s already been super helpful! I really appreciate her time & help.”
“The sessions with Amanda help me understand myself better and keep me grounded. It’s great to feel that she has the best interest for me. I feel grateful.”
Negative high school stereotypes harm teens in many ways. With the right help, you can protect your teen and help them grow into a healthy adult. Bullying can have a severely detrimental impact but it doesn’t have to damage or define your teen’s future. Connecting with a therapist is a wonderful first step toward reclaiming their joy and identity.
Other Commonly Asked Questions:
What makes a kid popular in high school?
Popular kids tend to have a lot of charisma, social skills, and confidence that help them rise up the social ladder. For a girl to become popular, it helps if she is very pretty and has a social personality. For a boy, it helps if he is athletic like the jocks.
However, there are many other factors that may help someone become popular. Many kids who come from wealthy families tend to be more popular than those who don’t. Kids in this group may also have family members who have connections with teachers or other important figures in the school, which increases the popularity of these members.
What are the 12 high school cliques?
Recent research has found that there are about twelve high school cliques found in most high schools. They are the populars, jocks, floaters, good-ats, fine arts, brains, normals, druggie/stoners, emo/goths, anima/manga, loners, and racial/ethnic groups.
You are probably familiar with most of these cliques due to the common stereotypes found in movies, television, and other media. The populars are the kids at the top of the social ladder whom everyone looks up to. They are usually rich, wear the latest trends, and are mean to others. The popular girl is the more common stereotype, as immortalized by the character Regina George in the movie Mean Girls. A girl in the popular group will have long hair, wear lots of makeup, and is usually swarmed by a group of admiring boys. Furthermore, all girls in the school look up to her and want to be like her, despite the fact that she is incredibly mean to them.
The jocks are the guys who are really into sports and tend to be bullies. They may also be populars or are friends with the populars or may be in their own specific group with other athletes. All the girls in school usually swoon over these guys, even though they may be rude to anyone not in their clique.
The good-ats are the overachievers in class. They get significantly better grades than the rest of the class and tend to be the teacher’s pet. However, they are not the same as nerds. They may also partake in volunteer opportunities or extracurriculars and are well-rounded. They tend not to create a clique themselves but interact and become friends with various other cliques instead.
The fine arts clique consists of kids who are very interested in art. They may get involved in drawing, painting, sculpting, or similar hobbies. They also may have more piercings, tattoos, or other body modifications than some of the other cliques. Their grades tend to vary. Some do well in most subjects, while others only excel in an artistic course.
The brains are the nerds of the class. They consistently excel in their coursework and have very good grades. However, they tend to experience more anxiety than other high school cliques, especially social anxiety. They may be under more pressure than average from their parents to succeed.
The next three cliques are on the lower end of the social ladder. First, there are the druggies, which as you may have guessed, focus their identity on their drug use. They’re the kids that smoke weed or do other drugs after school has ended and revolve their personality mostly on this. They tend to be laid back and more relaxed than their classmates. They may be higher up on the social ladder depending on overall views of drugs by their other classmates.
Next is the emo and goth clique. They’re the kids who wear all black, have spiked hair, and wear leather jackets. They may listen to music that isn’t mainstream such as punk rock, alternative, rock, or indie rock.
The third group on the lower end of the social ladder is the anime/manga clique. Members of this group enjoy anime and manga, which usually isn’t a popular hobby amongst other cliques. Members may partake in cosplay and dress as their favorite character or may just enjoy the hobby by reading manga and watching anime on television.
Next is there are the loners. They don’t fit into any group, but that may be by choice. They are content without having too many friends and just like to be by themselves.
Now, we need to discuss the floaters and the normals. They are typically smacked in the middle of the social ladder and neither group fits neatly into a specific clique. Floaters drift from clique to clique, often making friends with members of various groups but don’t actually join any of them. Normals don’t exactly float, but they don’t directly belong to any clique either. Instead, they feel invisible and that they don’t particularly fit into a specific group. This doesn’t mean that they have friends; they just don’t belong to a specific group.
Research indicates that the final clique is the racial/ethnic groups. Members of this clique support each other as they traverse the unique challenges that may only be experienced by their ethnicity. However, it must be noted that with increased diversity and inclusivity, this clique may not be as common as it once was. Furthermore, schools that have these cliques usually find them to be more fluid than some of the others.
However, though these cliques are common, it is important to understand that people don’t always fall neatly into predetermined groups. People are often more complex and unique and don’t always fit into specific groups.
Furthermore, this classification doesn’t include all members that you may actually see in a high school. For example, band geeks and members don’t show up in the twelve high school cliques but is still a common clique that you will see in high school. This group involves members who are interested in music, whether it includes playing an instrument for the school band or singing in the choir.
Another example is the class clown. This stereotype may interrupt class with his shenanigans and often gets in trouble with the teacher. Though the class clown is not in a specified clique, he may be a part of the popular kids, jocks, or normals. However, he can also be a floater as he typically is a fun friend for anyone. Since he is the life of the party, he typically is at the middle or upper end of the social ladder.