College can be a lot of fun, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of toxic social norms popping up all over college campuses that you will probably have to deal with. Many of these toxic social norms can and will follow you into adulthood, especially if you don’t try to deal with them in college by developing strategies and skills to avoid engaging with them. As you start your adult life in school, try to avoid these ten toxic social norms in college so you’ll have a leg up on ditching them for the rest of your adult life!
Any time you form a group that isn’t friendly and welcoming to other people, you are forming a clique and engaging with toxic social norms like elitism and exclusion. It’s okay to have a tight friend group and to not want to be friends with everyone, but that doesn’t mean you have to be mean to someone that you don’t get along with as well. Sometimes, a person really wants to be your friend because they haven’t found their group yet. You are really lucky to have found yours, so why not share a little bit of love? The person on the outside might not feel like you guys are totally compatible either, but they might be feeling really lonely and could truly benefit from your kindness.
That being said, if you’re the person on the outside, work on cultivating confidence in being alone for a bit. It’s better to be on your own and focused on school than in toxic friendships with people you don’t even really like. Just because you haven’t found your people yet doesn’t mean you won’t, or that you don’t deserve to.
2. Drinking Or Party Culture
Having fun, experimenting, and doing things that you couldn’t do while living with your parents is normal and encouraged. However, the amount of drinking and partying you do could very well be because of toxic social norms. If you or someone around you seems to be partying a little too hard (drinking or getting high every night or throughout the day, getting so drunk that they blackout frequently and not just that once, doing things that they clearly regret, endangering their studies), it is probably time to cut back significantly.
There is only so much you can do for other people, but read up here if you’re concerned as a place to begin. For yourself, try to take a step back. Consider choosing one party night a week, or every other week, or only when you aren’t busy with school and extracurriculars. Consider getting high as a reward for doing all your homework, or making one drink when you watch an episode or two of your fav show before bed.
Also, remember that doing these things doesn’t make you cooler, better, more worthy, or more mature. Just because drinking and partying are big themes in college doesn’t mean you have to partake if you don’t want to. These are toxic social norms and should be named as such.
3. Peer Pressure
There is peer pressure to drink and party, which coincides with drinking and partying toxic social norms, but there is also peer pressure to do sexual things or anything else that you might not want to do at your school. This could apply to specific friendships, or there could be peer pressure coming from a pervasive culture at your school. Maybe it’s really important to people at your school to take part in Greek life, tailgates, sporting events, or some strange school ritual, but that doesn’t mean it has to be important to you, too.
In some cases, it’s good to try new things even if you’re a little uncomfortable. Pushing our own boundaries is uncomfortable. In these cases, it’s important that it is your choice to do something, rather than feeling like you are pressured into choosing something. If it feels safe, try it once. If you don’t like it, you never have to do it again. If it doesn’t feel safe, especially when in a sexual or partying scenario, don’t do it.
Competition is one of the toxic social norms that will follow you the rest of your life, even if you develop strategies for coping with it. In some cases, competition can be helpful, like if it motivates you to do your best, but it can also create hierarchy, make some people feel like they can’t succeed, and in some cases, even prevent others from succeeding.
To cope with competition at your school, either in an interpersonal sense or from an academic standpoint, recognize that everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses. If you have trouble recognizing your strengths and weaknesses, try meeting with a career advisor at your school, a trusted professor, or your academic advisor. These people are here to help you succeed. Use them, and let other people do their thing. Someone else winning doesn’t mean you can’t win, too.
Also, stop comparing how many people you slept with, how much you can drink, what size your body parts are, what cool skills you have that others don’t, what you look like, your grades, your travel experiences, and anything else that has absolutely nothing to do with your worth as a person. These little competitions are unnecessary and can be extremely harmful.
There is no need to gossip about someone behind their back. Things like “I loved Sarah’s hair, so I wanted to try it, too” are okay, but “did you see Meghan’s hair? So basic” are not. One is simply referring to another person in a positive light, and even giving them credit for an idea you appreciated. The other is gossip. Don’t gossip!
It only reflects badly on you to gossip and is one of the sneakiest toxic social norms. Gossip corrodes your friendships even if you don’t talk about your friends behind their backs because when people say something, positive or negative, the listener associates those traits with the speaker. This means that if you speak about people positively, people will think of you positively. If you speak of others negatively, the same is true.
Having an emotional talk with a trusted friend about an emotional event or situation doesn’t always count, but definitely check yourself because it can get there surprisingly quickly. Process your emotions by talking them out, but don’t gossip.
6. Toxic Masculinity
One of the reasons toxic masculinity is so prevalent in college culture is because young men and boys are leaving home for (usually) the first time, and working out what it means for them to move into manhood. It’s really hard to figure out what ‘being a man’ means, especially in a society that is constantly trying to tell men how to behave and succeeding. Although toxic masculinity isn’t any one individual’s fault, not doing the work to remove yourself from the influence of toxic social norms is.
A great way to cope with toxic masculinity, which will absolutely be a part of your life in the future (sadly), is to take a gender studies, sexuality studies, women’s studies, or sociology course. Studying toxic social norms that poison our whole society is hard, but it will only help you in the future.
It’s very common to put off doing things, which is what makes procrastination one of those toxic social norms that will definitely come up in college. A certain amount of procrastination is okay, and I’m certainly guilty, but try pushing yourself past your procrastination. It feels a lot better to get things done than to stress about them at the last minute.
Try a reward system for yourself. Your parents might have done this with you when you were little, and you can easily do it with yourself. Suck on a lollipop while you do your work, stop after an hour and take a tea or snack break, or push yourself through everything and give yourself a big reward at the end. Whatever works for you, try to develop skills to cope with procrastination now. Not only will they help your grades, but they will also help you the rest of your life.
In friendships and in romantic relationships alike, codependency is extremely prevalent in college relationships. Being away from home, it can feel scary to do anything by yourself, but the only way to overcome this is to practice and to build confidence. If you go everywhere with someone, if you can’t be without someone, if you never try something new without someone, you are codependent.
It’s amazing to build strong friendships in college and to experience amazing, serious, even lusty romantic relationships, but that shouldn’t prevent you from cultivating your independence. Don’t forget to be alone sometimes, too. It’s important.
9. Sleep Deprivation
This can be a result of partying, codependency, procrastination, anxiety about competition, being overworked, poor time management, anything! Instead of pushing yourself too hard or not being disciplined enough, try prioritizing self-care. It’s important to get all your work done, but if it is impacting your sleep schedule significantly, you might be doing too much.
Time management is also huge. Poor time management can increase your stress levels, lower your self-worth, and prevent you from succeeding. Try to develop better time management skills by yourself, or turn to friends, professors, or other forms of guidance for help!
10. Low Self-Worth
When people are in a new place without the familiar support systems they are used to, it makes sense that self-worth would be impacted. Maybe you are surrounded by genius people and you feel lacking, maybe someone said something unkind to you and it really stuck, maybe you just feel so alone and lost. Whatever it is, there is a reason that you are feeling low.
You are still worthy of joy and confidence and success and love even though you’re in a new or challenging situation. The same is true for everyone else. Unfortunately, low self-worth can add to and even create other toxic social norms, so it’s really important that everyone work on self-love. Extend kindness to yourself, and remember that other people around you are probably going through difficult periods of growth, too.
What toxic social norms are you developing the skills to combat? Is there one toxic social norm that feels especially prevalent at your school?
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