Lies the media and grown-ups tell you about high school

I’ve never understood how some adults don’t seem to have any memory of being a teenager. Sometimes, I would think that some well-meaning aunt or uncle asking about my “little friends” must have just been beamed down to earth whole after at least age 33. I vowed many times to never get that way – I have some angry diary entries to prove it. This disconnect is easy to see in news reports about high school, or even in the way that adults sometimes talk about high school. #GrownupsJustDontUnderstand. Worrying about many of these myths kept me up at night the summer before 9th grade, making me toss and turn and wonder how to deal with the Big Bads of high school. Almost from day one of actually being in high school, however, I realized that the media’s portrayal of high school has little to do with the day-to-day realities of high school. Here are some of those pervasive ideas that turned out to be, well, wrong (no offense, Mom and Mom’s favorite morning show!).


Prom is an important capstone of high school, and we’ve certainly written about it a lot, from calling out uncool dress code problems to fun retrospectives of the last century of prom styles. However, I don’t think I ever had as strong feelings about prom as some reporters seem to, panicking about everything from “extreme prom diets” to “intense promposal pressure.” I cried at prom, and I was really excited to go dress shopping, but not from any sort of extreme pressure. Prom just isn’t the only be-all end-all of senior year – there’s graduation just around the corner, and saying goodbye to friends, and college or jobs. Parents want their kids to be safe and to have a great time, but if they could only remember their own prom, they would relax and remember that those scant hours will be a smushed, sweaty, happy, sad, active blur where your shoes don’t matter because they get kicked off around minute 15.

There are clear-cut decisions around every corner that will make or break your whole future.

“How do we keep our kids from getting in to trouble in this specific way,” parents want to know, and “How do we help our kids to make these specific grades or get into these specific schools?” Like anything else in life, of course, nothing in high school is so clear-cut. The ability to make choices that build on your past to get to your chosen future comes from character, experience, and personality — which are all built over time. Parents can relax! High school is when their little creations get to make their own choices. Usually, they’ll be a mixture of good and bad. There is not one single decision that I made in high school that specifically affected my future in a long-lasting way, not even the time I wore an all-beige outfit on the first day of school (note: This is a bad decision).

Everyone is having sex; everyone is pressuring everyone to have sex.

This, unfortunately, is a myth that’s perpetuated by high schoolers as well as everyone else. It’s not until you get to the end of high school that you realize, wait, I think just some people were having sex and some weren’t, and whatever I was doing was probably pretty normal. Those news stories about weird Internet sex rings and jelly bracelets and lascivious parties? Those weird loud laughs when people are talking about their weekends and the insinuations that they DEFINITELY had sex? None of those mean anything; everyone in high school is just as weird and freaked out about sex as you are. The best thing you can do is just get educated about your choices, as well as the risks, responsibilities, and good things, too, that can come out of sex, whether you choose to have sex while in high school or wait until college or marriage or never.

Getting good grades in high school basically determines your whole life.

Grades can determine or affect some things, like what colleges you get in to and what your class standing is. It was easy to get roped in to a whole panic spiral in high school, where I thought one bad grade on a test meant I would definitely end up living in the woods but not in a cool wilderness-guide way. However, as a recent post-grad, I can tell you that grades in high school and in college are not nearly so definitive. The best part about working hard for good grades is learning the skills that you will need in whatever path you choose: How to make a plan, how to organize your time, how to follow through, how to ask questions, and how to concentrate. Nobody will care about your B- in Advanced Chemistry (stoichiometry, am I right?) but everyone from your friends to your partners to your employers will care about your ability to stick with something and see it through.

High school is the best time of your whole life.

The final one on this list is a biggie. This message is perpetuated over and over, sometimes from television and media, sometimes from weird older relatives who want to hear all the gossip, sometimes from our own parents. I remember feeling pressure and wondering what I was doing wrong because high school just, well, wasn’t that fun a lot of the time for me. The truth is, high school is the best time of your life only in retrospect when you only remember the good parts and don’t think about the bad or boring or stressful parts. It’s probably good to have that rosy-colored memory, instead of remembering every slight and insecurity, but don’t let that make you feel like you’re failing life because you don’t love high school. Even if you do love high school, you shouldn’t worry that nothing will ever be better than it is right now. (For starters, college is pretty awesome, and so is turning 21, and so is any number of things that come after high school.)

In the end, this message is a familiar one: Don’t listen to broad statements that may or may not have any application to your life, just live and pay attention to what you are thinking and feeling and follow that.

Related reads:

How to survive high school as an introvert

These 10 songs will help you survive high school

7 affirmations that will help you survive high school

(Image via Paramount Pictures.)

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