A Therapist’s Perspective On Teens Who Don’t Fit In

Bullying can devastate your teen. Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Bullying can devastate your teen.
Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The topic of bullying comes up a lot in my line of work.  It is brutally painful for tweens and teens to be picked on by their peers.  One 12 year old girl started counseling a few months ago because she can’t figure out how to fit in at school.  It turns out people clear the lunch tables when she sits down.  When I first met her, this was really difficult to understand.  She dressed appropriately, had normal hygiene, was friendly and altogether delightful.  What makes certain kids the outcasts?

 

After working with this issue for several years, it seems to me bullying occurs more frequently in middle school, and maybe the early high school years.  Middle school appears to be the worst time, especially for girls.  It also seems to me there are three types of kids.  There are the kids who are assertive (and sometimes aggressive), the kids who are neutral (and generally left alone), and the kids who are picked on.

 

In early adolescence, the children that are assertive tend to be popular.  These are the kids who don’t take crap from anyone.  If someone is talking behind their backs, these kids get mad.  They confront their accusers with attitude.  They sometimes pick on someone else a little bit and make the other kids slightly afraid of them.  On the surface they don’t seem to care what anyone else thinks.  They are a little bit louder, a little bit more socially advanced, and a little bit more willing to break the rules.  These teenagers do not necessarily make up the “bad crowd,” but they aren’t usually in the chess club or the 4.0 club either.

 

The neutral kids are the quieter ones.  They have their group of friends, and they are content with this.  They don’t have any ambition to move up to the next social group, or to be seen as popular.  They usually earn pretty good grades, and they don’t rock the boat.  These kids are probably what we’d think of as the “typical” middle school or high school student.  They are into their particular hobby, whether it be band, theater or sports, and they don’t cause a lot of trouble.  They also don’t get teased very much.

 

The third group of kids are the ones who get bullied.  These are teens who are naturally programmed to care what everyone thinks of them.  These teens cry when others gossip about them instead of getting angry.  They take it to heart when someone says they run funny, and then forever feel self-conscious in P.E. class.  They suck up to the more popular kids because they don’t want the popular kids to be mean to them.  These kids are easily taken advantage of because of their efforts to gain favor with everyone.  Sometimes they are naive.  These children are naturally non-assertive.  If they are assertive, they don’t do it in a way that earns the respect of their peers, only in a way that causes them to be mocked.

 

No matter which group your teenager is in, help them understand it is not their permanent position.  At some point we are differentiated from our peers in terms of our abilities and ambition.  Eventually it is no longer about certain personality traits that you were born with.  In general, middle school and high school years are years that can include a lot of insecurity.  Some of the more insecure teenagers I knew have grown up to be amazing adults.  Help your child know he or she is building character for the future.  Remind your teen that wisdom is born from suffering, and compassion is born from rejection.  Don’t let them lose sight of the big picture as tweens and teens are apt to do.

 

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MFT, MS

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