My Teen Seems on the Fringe

September 17th, 2009


Jeremy comes home from school and spends the rest of the afternoon and evening behind a closed bedroom door playing video games and reading.

Tasha seems down lately, ignoring her longtime friends and spending more and more time alone.

Do you see these kinds of tendencies in your teen? Or maybe they’ve even verbalized things like:

  • “I don’t have any friends.”
  • “All the kids I hang out with are losers.”
  • “I wish I was popular.”

The teen years, and the young teen years especially (11-14), are a natural time of change. In fact, the young teen years are the second most significant period of change in the human lifespan (following only the first two years of life). And a major shift in friendships is almost always part of the package.

Most young teens find that their childhood friendships (often based on proximity—”you’re my friend because you live near me”) aren’t sustainable in the new larger world of adolescents. Friendships begin to be formed on affinity (“you’re my friend because we like the same things”).

The in-between result is often teens on the fringe: students who leave the comfort of childhood friendships with hopes of joining ranks with a difficult-to-penetrate new circle of friends (cheerleaders, football team, popular kids). This can leave kids in limbo, without significant friendships—on the fringe.

Watch for these telltale signs:

  • Distancing from childhood friends. This can be a healthy process—so don’t jump to conclusions. But be aware that this initiation of social shift can result in a move to the fringe.
  • Quantity time spent alone. This is especially common in young teen boys: their social skills are often not developed, and it’s emotionally easier to be a loner than to bushwhack into new friendships.
  • Depression. I’m not necessarily referring to the clinical types of depression. And all young teen get moody and “down” at times. But take notice if this seems to be a regular mood.
  • Popularity Longings. It’s certainly not uncommon for teens to want to be popular (it’s not uncommon for adults either!). But watch for regular verbalizations and attempts at breaking into popular cliques.

Helping Fringe Kids

If you sense that your teen is on the fringe, somewhat friendless, and defeatist about building new friends, try some of these ideas:

  • Verbally encourage budding friendships. When you see your teen taking healthy steps toward new friendships, affirm their efforts.
  • Facilitate friendships. Go to great lengths to create opportunities for healthy friendships to develop. Suggest creative and fun things to do, and provide transportation.
  • Keep lines of communication open. Talking about this stuff can be the most important step for lonely teens. Find safe and neutral places for your teen to share with you.
  • Encourage youth group participation. It’s important that your teen have the opportunity to take part in a healthy church youth group.
  • Pray for your teen! Pray for healthy friendships that will meet the very real social needs of your teenager.

©2008 Youth Specialties

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