Ask a Therapist
I’m having a hard time fitting in at school. How can I get more kids to accept me?
—Feeling Left Out (age 12)
Answer By Kit Baker, LMFT
Dear Feeling Left Out,
Adolescence is often an awkward time. Many young people feel insecure about their physical appearance, such as their body type, weight, height, acne and visible physical disabilities or handicaps such as braces, glasses or speech impediments. These are things you have little control over. Kids will notice and make comments, and, unfortunately, some of those comments will be hurtful.
As much as we wish everyone would be sensitive to our insecurities, that is not the reality. It is important to remember we all have things we are insecure about, even the “popular” kids. How we respond to our insecurities in large part teaches others how to respond to them. For example, we can avoid eye contact because of thick glasses, hide our mouth because of braces and so forth. Or we can hold our head high, realize everyone has insecurities and maintain (or fake, if necessary) an overall positive attitude.
How we respond to our insecurities in large part teaches others how to respond to them.”
It’s okay and perfectly normal to want to be an individual and have your own personal style. However, you run the risk of setting yourself too much apart from your peers and even alienating yourself if you dress and wear a hair style completely different from others.
How is your hygiene? Do you bathe and brush your teeth regularly? What about strong body odors? Does your hair often look stringy? Most of the kids I talk to who say they want more friends are often the ones with poor hygiene. This is a simple thing to fix. Don’t let hygiene be the reason you aren’t making more friends.
Some adolescents feel self-conscious about the stricter rules in their home, such as not being allowed to have a cell phone when most of their peers already have one, not being allowed to have social media accounts or not being allowed to watch a popular TV show that many of their peers are watching.
This is a hard one; it’s true that not being allowed to have your own smartphone or social media accounts make a huge difference at how well you feel like you fit in. At the same time, your parents have very legitimate concerns about online safety, responsible and age-appropriate use of electronics and upholding family values. I suggest you have a sit-down with your parents, or a series of sit-downs, to reasonably discuss these concerns and learn how you can demonstrate your trustworthi-ness. By “reasonably,” I mean calmly and maturely discussing the rules instead of complaining how it’s not fair, yelling, crying or pouting.
Sometimes parents just will not budge. This can be very frustrating for you. The best approach is to treat this like the insecurities I mentioned earlier and realize everyone has something in their life that does not seem fair.
What kind of language do you use around your peers? Many youth think the excessive use of profanity and crude language will make more kids like them. The opposite is often true, even though a close friend may also use the same type of language. You actually end up repelling more people than you attract. While using only clean language may make you seem “weird” in the eyes of some, your unoffensive speech will make you much more likable and pleasant to be around.
Try to live by high personal standards, such as:
- Keep your word.
- Be loyal to those not present.
- Practice basic common courtesy.
- Look for opportunities to show acts of kindness to others.
- Admit to your mistakes and make the proper amends.
- Be honest and truthful.
Another thing to consider is, how varied are your interests? Do you spend most of your time focused on only one interest, such as a video game or TV show? Is it all you talk about or all you want to do? It’s important to broaden your horizons and try new things. You never know what you might be able to share with other people. Not everyone shares your interests, and that is perfectly okay. The reverse is also true; you don’t have to share the same interests as other people to be friends. But having a variety of interests makes it far easier for you to connect with others and for others to connect with you.
Sometimes we feel like we don’t fit in because of life circumstances beyond our control that may make us feel self-conscious, or even humiliated. Your parents may be experiencing financial hardships. They may be going through a divorce. You may be living with someone other than your parents, such as a relative or in foster care. There may be issues in your home such as drug or alcohol abuse; domestic violence; or physical, sexual or emotional abuse. Or you may have experienced past abuse.
These things can make you feel “different” or make you imagine that anyone who looks at you will somehow know your circumstances and think less of you. If any of these scenarios describe you, talk to a trusted adult such as a parent, a friend’s parent, a teacher, coach, therapist or any other adult you look up to who can help build you up, remind you of your strengths, and remind you of the things that make you a valuable person. If there is any type of abuse at home, it is very important that you report the abuse to a trusted adult, who will report it to the proper authorities and get you the help you need.
- Portray (or even fake) a positive attitude about yourself.
- Avoid style extremes that alienate you from your peers.
- Practice good hygiene.
- Maturely discuss home rules with your parents.
- Use clean language.
- Expand your interests.
- Tell a trusted adult if you need help or are experiencing any type of abuse.
These suggestions are a starting point, but things will usually get better over time if you apply these ideas. If things don’t improve for you, please reach out to a trusted adult, who can help you.
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