High School

People Can Change

Research by David S. Yeager, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin shows that a simple message can help high school students cope with social pressures and stress. 

"At the beginning of the school year, students participated in a reading and writing exercise intended to instill a basic, almost banal message to help them manage tension: People can change."

In an approach that looks a lot like that of Stanford's Greg Walton, the study had students read an article on how personality can change. then students were asked to read stories from high school seniors who described conflicts and how they were eventually able to manage them. Then students were asked to give advice to younger students.  

Do We Ever Leave High School?

I sometimes feel like my life coping skills haven't changed much from what they were in my junior year of high school.  So it's comforting to learn that this is pretty normal, if not what I want for myself.  Why? Studies suggest "that  memories from the ages of 15 to 25 are most vividly retained" - it's called the "reminiscence bump." In fact, a lot of who we are is developed in adolescence.  According to developmental psychologist, Laurence Steinberg: "if you’re interested in how people become who they are, so much is going on in the adolescent years.”

It's a period of great fear. Research shows that adolescents are in far less control of their fear response than children or adults. Which could mean that, lacking a way to deal with fear in adolescence, many carry that fear into adulthood.

It's a period of shame. Brené Brown says shame “is all about unwanted identities and labels. And I would say that for 90 percent of the men and women I’ve interviewed, their unwanted identities and labels started during their tweens and teens.”

According to Brown we use one of three methods to cope with shame. We avoid it, “by secret-keeping, by hiding”; we engage it, “by people-pleasing”; or we use "shame and aggression to fight shame and aggression.”

No matter the method, she says that we're likely to use that method for the rest of our lives.

So do we ever leave high school? Maybe not.

The Gap Year

I firmly believe that high school graduates should take a gap year (more on that in another post), but they are not the only age group for which gap years make sense. I really like Marc Freedman's proposal in a recent HBR article, that gap years be adopted by the older set. In the article, he suggests gap years as a retirement alternative, but I think they make sense even earlier. More and more, individuals will go through several career and life transitions and time to reflect and re-position their efforts in a way that best suits them can only help the economy. In fact, I think it's part of what's wrong with our economy today: too many people not doing what they are best suited for. Said another way, individuals need to focus on their strengths and often, those strengths that take time (even a year) to figure out.

The Best Years of Our Lives

I used to hate when people would tell me that high school was supposed to be the best years of my life. And then promptly panicked that they weren't. It seems though, that high school has become the predictive years of our lives. While much has changed in my life since I went to high school, I am a bit ashamed to admit that many things have not. While surfing the social media scene this evening I had to wonder, is how you were in high school predictive of your social media behavior?

Well, unfortunately, when it comes to one young lady I know well (that would be me) the answer is a resounding Yes.

In high school I was a bit of a loner. I was a nerd insofar as I got good grades but not of the tape-to-keep-your-glasses-together genre. I was also an athlete. Really I should have been more popular but I also had a messy home life to contend with and the often resulting caustic personality. Still I was a romantic soul couched in a pragmatic ethic.

So in high school I had only a small circle of friends and I didn't go out of my way to make many new ones. It seems, even with time and perspective, not much has changed. I'm just not someone who has hundreds and hundreds of friends on Facebook, nor do I plumb the depths of Twitter for followers. But like in high school I often do want to connect with more people or really just connect at all. And that's the hard part of social media - friends, colleagues, followers (could we please come up with a different name? it sounds so lemming-like!) are counted in numbers not nuance. The whole construct seems woefully inadequate for having the conversations that matter; for looking out into the world and finding the light in people that will brighten the way.

What were you like in high school?