“Raise your glass if you are wrong in all the right ways” – Pink
Most of us remember the kids from high school who just didn’t fit in. Some of us were that kid. For a few of us we remain that kid forever, no matter what our age.
Sometimes the kids who didn’t fit in hovered on the fringes, desperate to know what it felt like, for just a moment, to be accepted by the crowd. Or perhaps they were the polar opposite. Maybe they appeared angry and rejecting, exaggerating their “uniqueness” and projected the image that they could care less about anybody or anything. Perhaps the kid who didn’t fit in was the one you never knew about because they hid it so well, and even though they were outgoing and popular they secretly felt like an outsider.
The majority of parents are concerned about their children fitting in and feeling accepted by their peers and there are many reasons why it doesn’t always happen: a genuine lack of social skills, “odd” behavior, appearance, religion or socioeconomic status, or depression and anxiety. The list is endless.
Is it a cause for concern? If it’s causing your teenager distress, definitely. We all know the potential consequences: low self-esteem, depression, and in its most extreme the potential for suicide or violence towards others. But what do you do about the kid who doesn’t completely fit in but seems genuinely okay about it? Do they have at least one or two close friends? (If not it could be a warning sign that you should examine more closely) If they seem to have good self-esteem and have some close connections, should we assume that they need us to swoop in to “fix” them? Maybe not.
We need to do a better job at identifying the risk factors for teenagers who truly need our help. And we need to learn how to support, not change, the ones who don’t.
Not all kids that have trouble fitting in during high school have a problem. In fact they often become our future leaders, we just don’t know it yet.
Some of the most healthy, intelligent, sophisticated, and creative teenagers I know are the ones that are outsiders among their peers. Sometimes their peers reject them, but more often than not they too sense that they are somehow different and therefore choose to not engage with the crowd. On some level they are able to recognize that their peers have simply not caught up with them, that therefore they just don’t get anything meaningful out of the interaction. These kids tend to struggle sometimes in high school, but in college and as adults blossom into dynamic, successful, and fascinating people.
If your child fits into this category and seems to be feeling okay about themselves, don’t be so quick to assume that they are hiding their pain and try to “push” them to be like everybody else. Help them to embrace the qualities that make them different. Inspire their confidence in what makes them uniquely who they are. These are the same qualities that will serve them very well when the microcosm we call high school becomes a very distant memory.