I have heard more isolation stories from clients starting school last week than in all my previous years of practice (14). One teen told me how she plans to sit in the library for lunch. Another told me he is never invited to anything with his so-called “friends.” A third talked about how she feels like all the friend groups are already formed and she has no way to get into one. In every single case, their hearts are broken and they don’t know how to fix it. I feel their internal anguish as I listen to them give me the details about their worlds. They feel as though they are looking in on a world where everyone is smiling, but that they are stuck outside. They so desperately long for even just one person to show the interest, love, and compassion that they see other teens so effortlessly get.
What gives? Why are some outsiders despite every effort and others insiders even without trying?
1) Charisma: A few people have a lot of this character quality. Most have some. Then there are those who have almost none. You know the type: They just can’t seem to say the right thing at the right time. They make others feels awkward with their awkwardness. It is easy to pick up on the fact that they are not entirely comfortable with themselves.
2) Social Awareness: There are people who lack this very important character trait. They talk too loudly, they don’t know when to drop a discussion topic, they stand too close to people…they just cannot seem to read a room. Teenagers are very socially aware and they often reject the child who has not figured out social awareness.
3) Projected Confidence: Teenagers who walk with their heads up and scanning for eye contacts project more confidence. This is attractive to others. When eye contact is made, these confident teens will wave or smile. People reflexively smile and wave back, which makes everyone like each other more. Think about all that is missed for the teen who walks with eyes downcast.
4) Respect: Adolescents who know where they stand on an issue and are not swayed by the crowd’s opinion are more respected. Have other respect you translates into them being more inclusive.
5) Going Where You’re Wanted: This is the #1 most important thing teens do who fit in. They do not try to force themselves in where they are not obviously included. Teenagers who go with the other teens that already like them are happier. This is likely a life attitude of being content with what you have.
Here are some other thoughts on the struggle for an adolescent wanting to fit somewhere:
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT