Raising Healthy High Schoolers: How Do High School Stereotypes Hurt Teens?

Updated April 28, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Think back to one of your high school classrooms, your cafeteria, or another communal space where you used to spend hours of your teenage years. While you may have fond memories from this time, you might also associate your high school experience with life-changing challenges and social pressures.

Today, many teens contend with the pressure of high school stereotypes on top of their schoolwork, social media, relationships, and puberty-related changes.

Stereotypes are cognitive generalizations made about the qualities and characteristics of the members of a particular group. While stereotypes help us make quick judgments and perceptions, they tend to be exaggerated and negative, which can prevent us from getting to know others in a more understanding, empathetic light. 

If you’re the parent or caregiver of a teen, learning about the potential harm of high school stereotypes can help you guide your adolescent through this tricky phase of life. With research-backed information and strategies, parents can raise healthy teens and help them grow into confident, self-aware adults.

Trying To Help Your Teen Combat Negative Stereotypes?

What Are The Harmful Effects Of High School Stereotypes? 

While stereotypes do not always hurt teens, these generalizations may encourage bias, exclusion, misinformation, and other social behaviors with harmful psychological effects. 

Based on current psychological research, stereotypes can lead to the following harmful outcomes in high school-aged students. 

1. Stereotype Threat

Stereotype threat refers to a person’s expectation that negative stereotypes about their member group will adversely influence others’ judgments of their performance. Within this line of reasoning, a person believes their poor performance will reflect badly on their group.

Research suggests that stereotype threat commonly occurs in classrooms, where negative stereotypes about a particular race, ethnicity, gender, and/or cultural group can create stress and ultimately reduce a student’s academic focus and performance. 

For example, several studies show that racist stereotypes about African American students’ intellectual ability can negatively affect their test-taking performance. Stereotype threat is common among any member of a marginalized group, whether the group is defined by race, gender, or another core identity. 

2. Limited Exploration Of Passions.

Negative stereotypes about high schoolers’ gender, race, and other identifying features may discourage them from fully exploring their passions and budding interests. 

For instance: the widespread belief that girls are better at language than boys, and that boys are better in math, may lead high schoolers to avoid certain clubs or hobbies in accordance with these stereotypes. Relatedly, if a high schooler belongs to a certain group that rejects specific interests or skillsets, they may stifle their natural interests in exchange for social currency.

The implications of these behaviors extend beyond high school, and may even shape students’ career choices and confidence in their future endeavors. 

3. The Formation Of Harmful Cliques

High school stereotypes are often linked to specific “cliques”, which are status- or friendship-based subgroups within a larger group: in this case, high school. Depending on your age and where you attended school, you may have encountered some of the following high school cliques

  • Jocks, athletes, and cheerleaders
  • Theater kids
  • Popular kids
  • “Nerds” or academics
  • Artsy kids
  • Band or choir kids
  • Rebels
  • Hipsters
  • Loners

As teens navigate the social challenges of high school, belonging to a clique can enhance their social standing and friendship ties, while reducing feelings of isolation and exclusion. Relatedly, stereotypes about certain cliques can provide helpful information about the characteristics of people who belong to those groups.

But if you’ve ever been excluded from a clique, you likely understand the potential harm of cliques – and their associated stereotypes – from firsthand experience. Some of the negatives of cliques include: 

  • Cruelty to people outside the clique
  • Forced conformity to specific rules or ways of acting
  • A sense of social instability: one day, other clique members may decide they do not want another member in the clique anymore

Collectively, the unspoken dynamics of cliques can make it difficult to make new friends, explore alternative interests, or exit a potentially harmful social group.

Trying To Help Your Teen Combat Negative Stereotypes?

Strategies For Parents: How To Help Your Teen Combat Negative Stereotypes

If you’re a parent or caregiver, perhaps you’ve already had several conversations with your teen about the negative effects of stereotypes. On the other hand, your teen might hesitate to talk about their social challenges with you, or simply not have the language to describe how negative stereotypes make them feel.

Wherever you are in this process, there are several strategies for parents to support their teens’ social growth and help them combat negative high school stereotypes.

1. Challenge Common Stereotypes About Teens

In addition to the group-based stereotypes that often circulate in high schools, parents and other adults can actually perpetuate negative stereotypes about teens. In both popular media and everyday conversations, many people stereotype teens as risky and irresponsible, and therefore likely to ignore their parents, skip school, and succumb to bad influences. 

However, researchers are finding that these stereotypes do not universally define teens. In fact, challenging these harmful conceptions can actually encourage teenagers to accept more responsibility and achieve greater things. 

In a 2018 study published in the Child Development journal, researchers asked a group of Chinese middle schoolers to describe specific examples of teens behaving responsibly and then tracked how they thought about teens and conducted themselves after the exercise, compared to students who only described teen behavior. 

The students who focused on responsible teenage behavior were less likely to support negative stereotypes about teens, like poor school attendance or risk-taking. In the short term, they were also more likely to engage in more constructive behaviors themselves. 

These results suggest that negative stereotypes about teens – some of which stem from adults and parents – can influence teens’ behavior and belief in themselves; but crucially, these stereotypes are not fixed. 

As a parent, you can discuss the inaccuracy of these stereotypes with your teen and encourage a growth mindset: the belief that we can improve our abilities – and combat misconceptions about ourselves – with effort, patience, and support from others.

2. Encourage Exploration

From day one, kids are inclined to explore their worlds. While teens may not view themselves as “explorers”, high school is still a time of immense exploration and possibility. 

From an early age, parents can encourage children to play with all kinds of toys and games, regardless of the associated gender stereotypes. Over time, this simple decision can expand a child’s skillset and may make them more resilient to the harmful effects of high school stereotypes.

Even in high school, play and exploration continue. Both parents and teachers can offer a range of activities that span various areas of interest, without specifying that they’re for boys, girls, or any other specific group.

3. Recognize That Stereotypes Change Over Time

If you’re a parent, the stereotypes and cliques you encountered as a high schooler may differ substantially from the ones your teen now faces. Recent research supports this sentiment: based on a 2019 study by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago, there are new themes unique to modern-day teen experiences and high school cliques. Key takeaways include:

  • Academic anxiety is increasing.
  • While high schools are diversifying, racial and ethnic stereotypes still exist.
  • The emergence of newer cliques, including an “anime/ magna” crowd and a fear of “loners” as potential perpetrators of violence, may stem from current events and social media.

In summary: although many high school stereotypes remain powerful over time, they’re also not stagnant. Your teen’s social world differs from your own – and, even more importantly, the world you occupied as a teen. 

With this basic understanding in mind, listen to your teen describe their social experiences before offering your perspective. When parents don’t take the time to understand their teens’ social worlds, their advice may reflect their own teenage experiences rather than their children’s current needs. 

4. Consult A Therapist For More Support.

For many people, parenting is one of the most rewarding and challenging experiences of their lives. If you’re looking for additional support for yourself or your teen, a professional therapist can offer parenting strategies and empathy to help you all navigate the high school years and beyond.

While some people prefer in-person therapy, many parents and busy professionals prefer the ease and convenience of online therapy. Using a digital platform like BetterHelp, you can complete a brief questionnaire and match with a board-certified therapist within 48 hours. All BetterHelp therapists have at least three years of professional experience, and some specialize in working with parents, caregivers, and other people with high schoolers in their lives.

Several studies show that online therapy can be just as effective as face-to-face therapy. While more research is needed to assess the benefit of online therapy for parents, one 2020 study found that the pilot of an online cognitive behavioral group therapy (iCBT-I) for insomnia was well-received by both parents and school children. Most parents scored the treatment as helpful for their children’s sleep problems, and the researchers noted that the iCBT-I could be expanded and applied to a larger sample of children. Other studies affirm the efficacy of iCBT, which has been used to treat a range of mental health conditions including depression and anxiety.


The high school years can be transformative, enlightening, and turbulent. With the support of a parent or other caring adults, high schoolers can develop the tools and awareness they need to combat harmful stereotypes – and, perhaps most importantly, learn to accept themselves and others. 

Whether you’re a teen, parent, or simply someone with a high schooler in their life, learning about common stereotypes can help you better understand the teens in your life. As you navigate this process, a licensed therapist can offer additional tools to enhance your understanding and improve your relationship with your teen.

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