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Treatise on the Psyche of the High School Student

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Caught somewhere between the naïve innocence of a child, and the relative stability of an adult, is the ever impressionable adolescent. Typified by a renegade disposition and an aversion to authority, the high school student is the modern manifestation of the prodigal son, before his return. He attempts to distinguish himself from his peers through clothing styles, music taste, and typical clique criteria. Yet it does not take long to uncover this thin veneer and slip beneath the sometimes stolid, often silly façade of the high school student, and to delve into the deepest synapses of his psyche.

The most externally evident struggle of the high school student is his choice between academic and social pursuit. The two often contradict one another, and the student is subject to make a decision. He may wonder, “Shall I skip class and take another lunch? Well, today is a review for tomorrow’s test. So I won’t miss a new lesson… but I haven’t really grasped the curriculum yet, I could use the review. But then again, I can sit near Jessica if I skip. I’d love to get some alone time with her…”
The decision the student makes is irrelevant, both results are equally likely. More important to our discussion is the decision making mechanism employed. Albeit nearly arbitrary, his thought process is guided by several definitive influences. First, he recognizes his primary responsibility: to go to class. He knows immediately the advantages of doing so, but attempts unsuccessfully to reason against them. When he accepts the futility of negating the argument supporting attending class, he proposes a counter argument; a new possibility with different advantages. This counter argument is influenced by both a need to belong and fit in, and of course, hormones. More importantly however is its advantage of having been created under false pretense in the student’s mind. Since it is his own creation, intended specifically for the current circumstance, he is immediately disposed towards it, and unlikely to find fault in its advantages.
We see from this previous example another prominent feature of the psyche of the high school student. He is often conscious of what is right and wrong, acceptable and unacceptable behavior for most situations, but he does not let that be the definitive factor in his decisions. Similarly, he understands syllogistic argumentation, yet often chooses not to follow through. Seemingly without notice, he will begin a logical thought process, and then jump to an end, ignoring the means by which he arrived there. It is as if when a decision must be made, he attempts to reason through it, but is overcome by a fit of overzealousness. He is whimsical, and often concerned with immediate satisfaction. Thus he is susceptible to trends, and often cycles through various friends without a legitimate reason to leave or befriend any of them.
There is a unique variety of high school student important to identify: The Drifter. The Drifter is the socially competent high school student who nevertheless does not subject himself to a clique or large group. He may keep friends in various cliques across the school, creating for himself a diversity of opportunity, company, and entertainment. Because of his relative independence, one may assume that The Drifter is the only high school student aware of the condition of the high school environment. He is the only one who recognizes high school not as a thriving, interactive communion of youth, but as a pseudo-society governed by confused, often contradicting laws and customs. And this in turn reveals the typical high school student’s undeveloped understanding of the world and true society. He is given, for the first time, an opportunity to set the rules. Released from the autocratic government of his parents, he seeks to form an interim government at school. Yet he is clearly unprepared. His priorities are confused, and instead of a harmonious society, there results a poorly organized federation of loosely constructed cliques, each of which often faces immense internal discord.

Then why, if I, a high school student myself, can recognize this reality, is it not remedied? Because I cannot gather a following large enough to reshuffle high school society? That may be true, but it is not the reason. The reason is our final comment on the nature of the high school student. It is the coexistence of a cynical self awareness with reserved optimism. By senior year, the high school student has more or less understood the foolish game he has played for four years. Yet he seeks not to change it for several reasons. First, he begins to separate himself from the other students, using the scornful term, “they.” “They are the ones who keep up this stupid game,” he may suggest. Second, he is sure that in his next level of development, the circumstances will have changed. “When I get to college, everyone will be mature. There won’t be any more silly high school drama.” Thus apathy prevails, and he feels no motivation to implement change in the social structure. A feeling of tradition is prevalent; he feels that what he went through, so did those before him, and so will those after him. He knows high school is imperfect, but he accepts that as inevitable, and lets it remain so.

The high school student is, above all, disconnected. He has not yet been drawn to the political excitement of the college campus, yet has for the most part removed himself from the comfort of the home. He is for a moment lost in a tangled web of lies, ad hoc friendships, sarcasm, parties, teachers, and ephemeral crises. His heart screams for belonging, yet his tongue often alienates those to whom he really belongs. He is blinded by fad, and deafened by libel. He wears a false face to hide his false heart, and slanders those who do the same. He is often ashamed of his accomplishments, and proud of his shortcomings. He seeks the approval of his peers before that of his conscience. Yet, through all this, he is undoubtedly good natured, and optimistic. He is simply confused. Thrown into a carnal pit of self service and unfounded independence, he often clings to the first stability he can find. His good nature is displaced. It is there, dormant behind the droopy eyes, but unsure of how to reveal itself. Thus the high school student is a struggle between self expression and insecure self repression. Yet he is just an ephemeral whim. As he once was the budding elementary school student, so too will he become the college student, the working man, and the old man. But he will forever rely on his experiences as a high school student. It was his first exposure to a new world, not the real one, but one created as a surrogate; a passage to reality.

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