Stereotyping: Seeing Beyond First Impressions

How can I get people to see ME and not my stereotype?

The reason people use stereotypes is because they just don’t know enough about you. Psychologists have actually done research, which shows that teens are less likely to pass judgments on a person based on a stereotype if they know more about the person himself. They asked ninth and eleventh graders some questions about who should be allowed to enter clubs or receive scholarships based on which group they hang out with. For some of the questions they also included info like “she is good at basketball” or “he is well liked by teachers” and these little facts made people less judgmental towards the characters. This is something you should remember because a stereotype is not a personal attack it is an overgeneralization. Still, many times it is still just as insulting.

It is obviously not possible to make friends with every kid in your class to avoid being stereotyped. Your classmates don’t know your values, your beliefs, your sense of humor, your favorite book, they actually know very little about you so there is no basis for their opinion of you. In a specific situation you can do your best to get to know the certain person or group a little better and then they can get to know you as well. This keeps both sides from making artificial judgments and may actually lead to a new friendship.

One thing to be careful of is becoming more like the stereotype because another person labeled you. Let me give you an example of what I mean. Say there is a kid named Jon who listens to heavy metal and made friends with a group of guys who he could talk music with. These guys also happen to do drugs. Soon his classmates assume that Jon is a druggie because he hangs out with those kids. Jon figures that he may as well start doing drugs since everyone already thinks he does. This is an extreme scenario but it applies to things like wearing certain clothes or listening to certain music just because you think that this is what everyone else expects of you. You should never let anyone force you into a role.

What if my friends and I use stereotypes to pick our friends, even when we sometimes don’t mean to?

Many times we pass judgments without really thinking about it. There is a developmental theory that explains how people are always trying to put things into categories so they are easier to understand. This is something our brains just do, even from the time we are born. This works for people, too. They remind us of someone else so we make the association because we don’t know much about them. Though we may sort people we have to remember that these categories are not set in stone. You have to get to know a person, their likes and dislikes, their opinions and views. You cannot assume you know everything about a person because of the stereotype you associate with her.

Just like when people are stereotyping you, you should get to know them better because there is a lot more to a person than first impressions. You don’t want people passing superficial judgments on you so you have to try your best to not do it to others. This is something that is hard to do if everyone around is still using stereotypes. You and your friends should try hard to not call people by labels or exclude people from your group. I know you can’t be friends with everyone, some people just don’t get along with one another, but this shouldn’t be a reason to be disrespectful. You also cannot assume that because you don’t really like member of group that you cannot be friends with any of their other friends.

Hopefully this has given you some insight into how stereotypes get started and the impact they have you and on others. The important thing to take away from all of this is that stereotyping is going to happen in high school, and even in adulthood, but it is how we react that makes the difference. You cannot take these classifications seriously when judging others or when judging yourself. Friends and social life are a huge part of high school and they are always going to shape your personality but don’t let them put a label on you.