By KENDRA BURDICK
High school social standards are often a daunting part of adolescent life. Students are tasked with navigating a complex and ever-evolving social scene, and their status among their peers can have a significant impact on their overall happiness and well-being. While social norms in high schools have certainly changed over the years, there are still certain expectations and behaviors that persist.
One of the most prevalent social standards in high school is the expectation of popularity. While the concept of the “popular crowd” has been around for decades, social media has added a new layer of complexity to this issue. According to a Pew Research Center study, 71% of teens use social media, and many use it as a way to create their online image and gain social validation. This can lead to a high level of pressure to fit into a certain mold and maintain a certain level of popularity.
This picture helps to show what some students at Redlands East Valley High School think in their heads when it comes to the topic of social standards and the judgment behind it. (KENDRA BURDICK/ETHIC PHOTO)
“Fashion affects my school life because people judge you based on what you’re wearing and not on your personality or morals. Being judged affects me and others emotionally and mentally because all we’re trying to do is express ourselves and we are turned into something that’s through another person’s perspective and not our own,” states Brooklyn Andrews, a freshman attending Yucaipa High School. (KENDRA BURDICK/ETHIC PHOTO)
Another aspect of high school social standards is the pressure to conform to specific fashion trends whether it be what’s shown on social media or around campuses. According to a survey conducted by the National Retail Federation, clothing and accessories are the top spending category for back-to-school shopping, with an average of $239 spent per family. For many students, following the latest fashion trends is seen as a way to fit in and gain social acceptance. This pressure can be especially challenging for students who come from low-income families or who have different tastes and interests.
In addition to these external pressures, certain behaviors and expectations are reinforced within high school social circles. For example, drinking and partying are often seen as a rite of passage and a way to gain social status, even though they can have serious consequences. Similarly, bullying and exclusion are sometimes used as a way for individuals or groups to assert their dominance over others.
So, why do these high school social standards persist? According to psychologist Dr. David G. Myers, social norms are “powerful guides for behavior” that can help individuals make sense of complex situations and feel a sense of belonging. In other words, following the crowd can be an easy way to find one’s place in a social group.
However, it’s important to recognize that these norms can also be harmful and limiting. Students who feel that they don’t fit into the popular crowd or who don’t conform to specific clothing trends may feel isolated or excluded, which can have a negative impact on their mental health. The pressure to drink, party, or engage in other risky behaviors can also lead to serious consequences, from physical harm to legal trouble.
Kai Jiang, a junior attending Redlands High School, explains their personal experiences with social standards. “When I became a freshman, we were coming back from distance learning, and everyone was so separated and divided into groups with only people you knew. I thought this would change as physically going to school became regular but everyone is still divided into groups and they don’t like to mingle (associate) with other people.”
Jiang continues to express how it affected their mental health. “Humans have to socialize to survive and stay sane, but it’s difficult to do when you are pressured into joining a club to be known and to have people hang out with you. It made me very uncomfortable having to act a different way to be let into a club and a class. This made me realize that stereotypical high school cliques are stereotypical for a reason.”
So, what can be done to address these high school social standards? One solution is to promote a culture of individuality and inclusivity. Friends, other students, and the people surrounding them can encourage students to embrace their unique interests and talents, rather than trying to fit into a specific mold. Teachers and counselors can also work to create a safe and welcoming environment for all students, no matter the student’s background or social status. In addition, guardians and other adults can help by modeling and reinforcing positive behaviors, such as healthy decision-making, empathy, and respect for others.
High school social standards are complex and ever-evolving. While some norms are deeply ingrained in our culture, it’s important to recognize their harmful potential and explore ways to create a more inclusive and supportive environment for all students. Promoting individuality, empathy, and respect, can possibly help teenagers navigate this challenging time in their lives and emerge as confident and fulfilled young adults.