The 3 Most Common Social Pitfalls of High School and How to Avoid Them

If you are a worrier like me, and you relive past mistakes for years, you may not remember high school very fondly. It’s not that I hated high school; on the contrary, I think I was blessed with great teachers and friends. But I do regret who I was in high school. Chances are, you other twenty and thirty somethings feel the same way (maybe we’ll be over it by our forties).

But, if you’re reading this and you are in high school or about to be, I can tell you the three critical reasons why I wasn’t my best self as a teenager. If you can overcome these hurdles, you’re well on your way to being a decent person.

1. No self-restraint:

When we were children, things like play and fear of punishment eclipsed our deeper desires for adoration, freedom from judgment, power, prestige, success, romantic love, respect, etc. In high school, all the distractions fall away leaving us to face our more complex desires. But by the time we turn 14, we have never exercised discipline over our thoughts before. And no one told us this was important. In fact, no one even told us we could discipline our thoughts. It works just like basketball or playing the flute: it takes practice, determination, and patience. 

Real life example: In high school I had a reputation of making unsavory faces when in the presence of people I did not get along with. You know why? Because I was thinking mean thoughts about them! Simple solution, teenage Emily – stop thinking mean thoughts and start thinking nice ones. Mean face gone. High five!

2. Competitive Environment:

In my experience, every high school student views her peers either as potentially helpful to her status or a threat to it. It doesn’t matter the era, education model, or demographic: all teenagers eventually devolve into this kind of culture. Therefore, it is easy to decide to play the game. But the high schooler who deliberately seeks out disinterested friendships – relationships that either hurt one’s social status or do not further it – that is a decent person. If her other peers don’t understand the friendship and reject it, even better!

Real life example: I made some friends because I craved the glamor of their social circles. But those same friends were the first to criticize my actions, call me names, and talk about me with other people. Duh. They didn’t respect me because they saw right through me!

3. No Empathy for Others:

It’s natural for teenagers to be self-absorbed, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for them. I hurt so many feelings in high school and college because I failed to see another person’s point of view. Of course, the first antidote to self-absorption is simply to ask people about themselves, about their home lives and their big dreams. But almost as important is to censor the stories that you consume. Avoid vapid shows whose heroes are even more selfish than you are, and watch documentaries instead. Learn how other people live. READ. Read stories about broken families and abandoned children, so you can know how blessed you are and how heavy the weights of others can be.

Real life example: In college, I had just gotten back from studying abroad (so you already know I was obnoxious) and walked into my room at the sorority house to settle in with my new roommates. On the wall was a giant picture of my roommates and the girl I was replacing. Do you know what I said? I said, “Oh my gosh, it’s so funny how everyone in college wears T-shirts everywhere. Ever since I lived in Spain, I promised myself I would never wear a ratty T-shirt to class again.” Yup. It happened. And I can’t take it back. Apparently it was more important to me at the time to share some super deep reflections about college fashion. Yikes.

Had I been more self-aware, more willing to look outside of myself, and more in control of my thoughts, I believe I would have been a more decent young woman. I can't change my past, but at least I can recognize my past faults. Now all I have to do is identify the present ones … piece of cake, right?

Tell me what you were like in high school! Unless you were an angel. If you tell me you were an angel, I will roll my eyes repeatedly the next time we share a gab circle.