I remember the moment it happened like it was yesterday. Almost thirty-one years ago to the day. I made a decision that put me on a better path in my life. I made the difficult and brave decision to be me. I was only sixteen.
I had attended the same elementary school since kindergarten. The friends I had made throughout those years were based on being in the same classroom; same extracurricular activities or maybe our parents were friends. I was a pretty happy-go-lucky little girl despite what was going on at home (see Mother’s Day: Lessons from my Mom). I liked everyone and genuinely and naively thought they liked me.
High School Cliques
When we all moved up to the local high school things began to change. All of my friends started to divide into little cliques. Some went the way of the nerd, others went to the dark side with smoking, drugs and sex, and of course there where the jocks. You know the scene; it’s the same in every high school environment.
I became caught in trying to fit in with all of them. You can imagine what happened. For some reason each clique wanted an allegiance from me. The dark side pushed me to do things I didn’t want to do and teased me when I refused. The others didn’t want anything to do with me if I kept friendships with the dark side. I was teased, chased, called names, and attacked. I was a mess.
At the end of my second year in high school I could not bear to think about going back that fall. I didn’t know any other way to deal with the situation other than to get out. Lucky for me I had understanding and loving parents and they agreed to let me go to a different high school outside of my neighborhood.
There are not many moments in my youth that I remember with such clarity. I stood on the front steps to my new high school looking up at the front door. I wore clothes I had chosen that fall because I liked them, not to impress anyone else (a blue beaded shirt and “Rainbow” wide leg jeans). My exact inner dialog was “the friends I make here will like me for me as I am. I won’t change who I am to fit in.”
I didn’t have a ton of friends there, but the ones I did make were good ones who liked me for my quirky self. I graduated feeling stronger and more confident about who I was in the world.
A few years ago, as I was parenting my own teenage boys, I did some research for an article I wrote on Teens and EQ. One of the pieces that stood out for me was the concept that teenagers have several “tasks” in their lives. One task is aligning their friendships with values that are now surfacing within. During the teen years our children start to become more aware of their own values and start to make choices based on them. They begin to look at their current friends with a different lens. They may realize that they don’t want to be with some of their old friends anymore. These teens are then faced with two choices:
a. to compromise their own values and keep trying to fit in or
b. to try to pull away.
I don’t need to tell you how difficult these choices are to make and live with in the intense scrutiny of any high school environment.
If you have teenagers or know any, I hope this helps you empathize with them and coach them through this time of potential angst in their lives.
Bless our teens who suffer through the changes they face daily in high school.