The typical Saratoga child: intellectual but with no social skills

April 3, 2020 — by Selena Liu

Saratoga is ranked No. 3 in Niche’s list of best public high schools in California. It should not come as a surprise how academically dedicated the average  student is. Just one indicator is that 595 students of its nearly 1,356 students are enrolled in AP classes. 

On the other hand, students here spend so many hours examining their textbooks and doing problem sets that they fail to build another skill crucial to both career success and personal happiness:  charisma. Students must learn social skills in order to thrive in the wider world. 

Unfortunately, the academic culture sometimes diminishes opportunities for social growth, all the more so now that we’re on Covid-19 lockdown. 

Even before this period of forced isolation, friendships at the school mainly revolve around shared academic experiences, and student conversation rarely strays from discussion over recent assignments, class difficulty and test scores. This not only prevents friends from truly forming bonds with each other by talking about deeper topics, like personal issues or common interests, but it also provides them with little opportunity to improve their conversation abilities and overall charisma. 

In the long run, when students enter their careers and no longer have any schoolwork to discuss, they will need social confidence to succeed in any career environment. Not to mention, students who improve their social skills earlier on also have a much easier time finding personal happiness.

Researcher Kira M. Newman told UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Magazine, “What seems true across cultures is that social connections are key to well-being. For example, very happy people are highly social and tend to have strong relationships; kids with a richer network of connections grow up to be happier adults; and socializing is one of the most positive everyday activities.”

Teens must find a better way to build social relationships and bond over something other than a shared academic culture. The most ideal way to do this would be greater participation in school clubs. Organizations like speech and debate, which hold frequent meetings and have official advisers and coaches, allow members to significantly improve their social skills by participating in competitions, meeting students from other schools and collaborating with teammates at school in something other than academics.

So the next time you're tempted to practice programming, practice piano for another four hours, or spend hours playing League of Legends, reach out to a friend and see if they want to take a walk — maintaining a socially appropriate distance — and practice forming real human connections. We're going to need them, both now and for the rest of our lives.

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At UC Berkeley, PhD student Abrar Abidi and research assistant Yvonne Hao have embarked on a goal of creating hand sanitizer for the Bay Area's most vulnerable populations, including the homeless and the incarcerated. Their hand sanitizer includes glycerol mixed with other products, in accordance with a formula from the World Health Organization. So far, they are producing 120 hundreds of gallons of sanitizer each week. Photo courtesy of Roxanne Makasdjian with UC Berkeley.

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