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adolescent peer relationships

by Zoë

How can a school environment change or influence the way people act? Middle and high school students are affected by many cliques and stereotypes, and sometimes adopt the habits and personality traits of the people they hang out with. This happens across a variety of school environments, ranging from small to large, public to private. The schools can be densely populated with thousands of students, or they can be intimate and quiet.

May is a girl who just started high school, has no friends yet, and is hoping to make some. She discovers the geeks, the populars, the jocks, and other cliques. Not knowing it, she sits with the popular kids at lunch, and begins to develop different personality traits to fit into the group. She goes from shy and insecure to overly confident and rude. May also develops bad habits: she sneaks out after curfew and steals things from the local convenience store. She follows the other girls and puts graffiti on the school bathroom walls, and disrespects her teachers. Her grades began to slip. May didn’t see anything was wrong with her behavior or the sudden change in her choices because she was fitting into the group.

What are some solutions? May could leave the popular group when she feels she is changing herself just to fit in. She also could try to steer the group in the right direction; for example, she could tell her friends that stealing is wrong. Peers, teachers and parents could reach out to May to help her see the problems and find solutions. There are many people who could talk to her about her experiences at school, and suggest ways to make new friends.

After talking with her family, friends and teachers once more, and thinking it out on her own, May made her decision. On the next Monday at lunch, she sat down with a new group, all the way across the dining hall from the popular kids. The group was a mix of mostly girls and a few boys, all from different grades and backgrounds. There didn’t seem to be a leader, or a particular “type” that she felt she needed to be. They were welcoming and friendly, which was especially nice since May felt shy all over again. After a week or two, her personality became warmer and gentler. She realized her new friends made her feel safe, helped her make the right decisions, and she felt herself becoming a nicer and better person. She was officially in her comfort zone, and not only did she feel better, but her new friends, teachers and parents were no longer worried about her.

A person can be influenced positively or negatively by their environment, and it affects all aspects of their health. There are six different types of health: mental, physical, spiritual, social, academic and emotional. It’s a good idea to reach out to someone if you notice they may be going along with the crowd and participating in negative behavior. By helping them to see there are options, it could change their whole perspective.

“Watch your thoughts, for they become words;

Watch your words, for they become actions;

Watch your actions, for they become habits;

Watch your habits, for they become character;

Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.” —Lao Tzu

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