There is a problem sweeping Britain’s schools and colleges, and it is all about image and dumbing down to fit in. The problem exists for both boys and girls – albeit for different reasons – but the effect is ultimately the same, which is that too many young people are setting themselves up to fail as a result of peer pressure or bullying. Not working as hard as you can or putting in the required effort in your studies will ultimately mean that you may not achieve the grades that you could have, leaving you less appealing to employers, colleges, and universities. But why would you even consider tripping yourself up in this way?
The reasons may be complex, but can basically be boiled down to a culture that says that it is not ‘cool’ or ‘attractive’ to be smart. For girls, this means a worrying trend where name-calling and bullying of the brightest will see them shrink back in class. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers Union have already raised concerns about the pressures that are placed on girls to be thin, attractive, compliant and quiet - adding that some girls feel they cannot be both attractive AND smart. The problem seems particularly acute when it comes to women looking to enter STEM (science, Technology, Engineering, or Maths) careers. For boys, the reasons for not trying too hard are slightly different, and have more to do with projecting a ‘cool’ or masculine image.
Whatever the root causes, the effects are the same – which is to drive young people to lessen their efforts in a bid to fit in. The bullying (or potential bullying) that causes this may even come from friends who may tease those who they think try too hard in their studies. Added to this may be pressures to hang out with friends rather than getting on with some study. Equally, there may be those who will seek to pick on people who work hard in class.
So, what can we do about this?
For teachers and educators, it means clamping down on bullying and trying to make sure people feel they can speak up in class, while, for young people, it seems there is a need to reframe what is seen as attractive or what traits are desirable.
If you want to achieve success, then there really is no viable alternative to working hard. This means in your studies and also later on in your career. How will an employer know how smart you are if you didn’t work to get the grades to prove it? Besides, what is so attractive or cool about stupidity?
Looking around will show that there are plenty of influential role models who manage to balance being smart with being cool and attractive. Why not look to them as an inspiration rather than worrying about the class-mate who is simply trying to drag you back? It might be worth building up your self-confidence a little too – leaving you less worried about what others think or even thinking about finding a more positive group of friends to hang around with?
The teenage years can be tough, with all sorts of competing pressures from parents, friends, your studies, and more, but you must remember it is your life and you can make of it what you will. But if you never really try, how do you know what you could have achieved, or what you could have been? Don’t fall into the trap – you can have (and be) it all!