The first question to ask is whether this is an issue for our teen. Some teens don’t ‘fit in’ with their peers – and they’re perfectly happy this way. The challenge may therefore be with our own expectations. Perhaps we want our kids to be invited out frequently, or to have a wide friendship network. Or perhaps we simply want them to be popular and well liked (it’s understandable, since wanting to be ‘well liked’ is hardwired into our biology).
However, let’s assume that this is an issue for our teen, and that he or she is distressed at not fitting in with peers. What can we do?
What to do when teens don’t fit in
It’s important to remember that ‘fitting in’ is completely dependent on the group of people around us. A sculptor is more likely to assimilate with a group of art enthusiasts than with, say, a group of scuba divers. We tend to gravitate towards those who share our passions, and these common interests are what connect us. We naturally ‘fit in’ with like-minded individuals.
Contrast this with the school setting, where students are grouped based on age and developmental level, rather than specific interests. Our kids might find themselves clustered with students who have vastly different, and perhaps even incompatible, interests and priorities. In this setting, the question isn’t “How can I fit in?” but rather, “How can I find like-minded people?”
Finding like-minded friends means knowing ourselves, and having a keen awareness of our preferences when it comes to interacting with others. We only have to look at our own lives for examples: The people with whom we spend most of our time are those with whom we have a common bond.
As parents, we can encourage our child to become aware of their own interests, values, and priorities. Does our child enjoy soccer? English literature? Fashion? Does he or she show an interest in wildlife conservation, addressing homelessness, or supporting kids who face adversity? Encouraging our teens to pursue their interests, becoming involved with interest groups, or volunteering for a cause in which they believe, are avenues for connecting with like-minded peers and widening their social networks.
At a more abstract level, perhaps our teens are aware of the qualities they seek in friends. Do they enjoy spending time with people who are talkative and gregarious? Or who are quiet and reserved? People who are entrepreneurial, or industrious, or energetic, or carefree?
Self-awareness leads to self-acceptance. When our teens accept who they are, this gives them the confidence to seek those who want the same things from life.
Dr Ash Nayate is a Clinical Neuropsychologist, which means that she specialises in how we can optimise our brain function and behaviour. She has been working with families for 15 years at some of the major hospitals in Melbourne. Ash is passionate about helping parents and kids to be happier, more confident, and more peaceful. Find out more at www.revolutionme.com.au