Social exclusion – my teen is left out!
By Dr Angela Mornane
‘My 13-year-old teenage son is never invited to birthday parties. He never complains, but I can see by his face that it affects him – especially when there are some parties on the same street. It is also very hard for us as parents.’
One of the biggest worries for parents is knowing that their child is feeling excluded or simply not fitting in socially with other children of the same age. Social exclusion is one of the most common issues that children (and parents) face in early childhood and teenage years. Navigating the teenage years can be difficult, as there seem to be so many variables that can influence how a child socialises with others. Adolescent development is a transitional period emotionally, physically, intellectually and socially. Moving from primary school to high school, the onset of puberty, the struggle for independence, and the developing brain maturity can be a combination that is stressful if not addressed or supported. Teenagers need to feel they ‘fit in’ with the ‘cool group’, and their identity formation is part of this developmental stage. While this can be a very confusing time your teen, there are some things you can do to make the journey a little easier for your child.
Here are some suggestions:
- School is where much of the socialising happens; however, there are many other opportunities to develop friendships away from that environment. Have gatherings at your place but keep the number of friends small and even (two or four people) so no one is left out.
- Instead of having birthday parties for each child in your family, have an annual party, such as Halloween. This means there is one event (rather than multiple events over the course of the year), and you get a multi-age grouping. You can also ask parents to these events, so that you can foster relationships with others that will also extend the family’s social circle.
- If your child is not invited to parties in the street, which can be particularly upsetting as it is going on in front of the child, you need to find something else fun to do while that party is happening. Visit a zoo, local park or take them out for a milkshake or something different that they will enjoy.
- Have a conversation about what true friendship looks and feels like. ‘You won’t always be included, but that’s O.K. Your real friends will always value you for who you are.’
- We meet new friends throughout our lives, so cultivate opportunities to develop positive relationships in a range of contexts: school, local community and sporting groups, family, family friends. Your child is an individual who will have his/her own interests. Find an interest that he or she enjoys and is good at. This often leads to developing friendships with like-minded people.
- When teenagers reach the age of 14, they can start work. A part-time job in something they might enjoy might also help them to meet some new friends and develop social skills.
- Broadening social groups can occur when your child is able to explore interests outside school. The development of life skills is valuable for adolescent children, as they want to feel that they can be involved in something relevant. Research indicates that feeling connected to the community fosters resilience, and there are many opportunities for young people to get involved. The CFA have programs for young members, often with mentors who can teach them a range of skills that will be relevant in the future. Surf lifesaving is also a great opportunity to develop life skills and connections to others. There are many volunteer groups for young people, so enquire at your local community centre.
The most valuable thing you can do as a parent of teenagers is keep the communication lines open and be there to listen if they have any concerns. If you think that the situation is leaning on the bullying side of social exclusion – repeated deliberate attempts to exclude your child – then you need to address this issue immediately.
Author bio: Dr Angela Mornane is a lecturer and student advisor for the Education faculty at Monash University. She lectures in subjects such as Adolescent Development, and Counselling Children and Adolescents. Her research focus is on resilience of adolescents and adults in a variety of contexts.
Repulished from the Exploring Teens magazine - February 2016