Realizing Worth as a Teen: Living, Learning, and Leaving
When you were young, did you have a defining moment that helped you realize your worth?
What about a moment where you realized you didn’t have to tolerate someone treating you poorly? If not when you were young, how old were you?
I’ve meant to write about a situation that happened to my daughter in middle school that has shaped how she sees her value. It’s a situation that probably happens daily to kids and having a support system seems to be an antidote.
Sixth grade is the entering grade in the middle school locally. Five elementary schools feed into this one. My daughter’s best friend, let’s call her Mary, played lots of sports in elementary school, so she knew many more kids who were going to this new school. In those first weeks of middle school, Mary became increasingly rude to my daughter Marcia. Once Mary told my daughter that she “shouldn’t be so smart because [she is] making everyone feel dumb.” This comment hurt my daughter’s feelings (obviously), and my usually bubbly kid got silent.
Like lots of parents, I get busy, and I’m not aware of everything going on around me, but this was a noticeable shift. I sat her down over some frozen yogurt to ask how she was feeling. It took a little bit of gentle digging, reassuring her that I love her and I could see something was bothering her. I know how it feels when someone offers unwanted advice when I just want someone to hear me, so I lead with offering her the choice of “empathy or strategy.” She wanted empathy and proceeded to tell me the story.
When I heard this Mean Girl told my daughter not to “be so smart” I could feel the rage – how DARE this punk kid tell my baby to dumb it down! As difficult as it was, I held that rage in because this wasn’t about me. Marcia knew that didn’t feel right but wasn’t sure how to respond. I validated her confusion; this was supposed to be her BFF, and that’s not how you talk to a friend. It also really sucks when your friend treats you poorly and puts you down. I tried to offer something for Marcia to think about: “Do you ask her not to be so athletic because it makes everyone else feel lazy?” I wondered how this would impact their friendship.
The rift between them got bigger. Later I would hear that Mary told Marcia to “stop following me. You’re annoying.” Mary was now tight with the popular kids, and as my daughter tells it:
“I was left alone for the rest of sixth grade & the beginning of seventh. But I kind of joined different groups, none which I really fit in with. I felt really unwelcome and unaccepted because I never found my group.
I tried to be in the popular group with Mary, but there were times they pretended I wasn’t there. Then I joined a group who was kind of near The Populars – I guess in the social hierarchy they were one spot down from the popular people – but they also didn’t seem to care if I was there. One example was: After picking up my hot lunch in the school cafeteria, I’d go to sit down. There were either no spots available or none of them were saved for me because people were saving seats for other people. I did not feel welcome. So after a couple of days I decided, you know what? That’s not good enough. I am awesome. I am fabulous. And I don’t understand why they won’t make room for me or notice that I’m there.
So I left to another group. That group was next to my old table, and they looked like they were having a lot of fun. They’d run to the field and actually go have fun. I really wanted to do that and not just stay the lunch table and gossip. I remember one time asking my “friends” in the old group “Do you want to go to the field?”, and they were like “nooo, let’s just stay here.” They weren’t really wearing proper clothes or shoes to run around either and so whatever.
The first friend group noticed I wasn’t coming around so they asked, “why aren’t you sitting with us anymore?” I told them, “you guys never made room for me.” They didn’t notice I was there until I wasn’t.”
Marcia told me about this friend group drama when she was in seventh grade! Like a year afterward. I had no idea of the friend group switching – I mean I noticed new friends but nothing seemed so out of the ordinary. I could see though that Marcia’s strong sense of self-worth gave her the confidence to get out of those crappy friendships.
To me, this seems like a transferrable skill.
Let’s look at dating and relationships and the future for Marcia – eventually dating is going to happen whether I like it or not. How does her experience in middle school translate to behavior when she’s older? When I later asked Marcia, she said:
“If someone tries to put me down I’ll know that I am awesome. It’s not a good use of my time to spend it with people who don’t notice that I’m there or care that I’m there. That will help me in the long run because I’ll be able to choose my friends more wisely.”
That attitude is who she is. This kid has always been brimming with confidence.
From a parent’s POV
I see this behavior as something that can help her avoid chasing a boyfriend or girlfriend who doesn’t have time for her. She can get out of friendships with anyone who doesn’t show her “yes I want to be friends with you because you’re awesome.” I wish I had the same guts at her age; instead, as an adult, I married someone whom my dad (rest his soul) said he thought didn’t love me enough. I also dated plenty of guys post-divorce who I shouldn’t have given a minute more of my time. If only I could have learned this lesson early like this.
What’s it like now?
The friends Marcia has now are really great kids, and they know she’s awesome. Checking back with her now about what she learned out of the experience in middle school she says:
“Two years later, I am still with the group I moved to, and I’m still very happy. I made a best friend – the girl that I originally knew the best in that group. We all have common friends; we have common interests, there is so much about us that is alike.
I realized what I need in a friend and what I need in a friend group. I need them to pay attention to me. Otherwise, it’s not worth my time. I care about my friends, and I pay a lot of attn to them. I love participating in their conversations and joking around and hanging out with them. Without my old friends being jerks, I probably wouldn’t have found the friends I have today, and I’d probably still be stuck with them and following them around, and that would not be fun.”
She’s got the confidence that the young me never had. Whew.
Make no mistake – I do not think I’m perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Like many of you, I’m just trying the best I can to keep from screwing up my kids. I am grateful for the open and communicative relationship developing with my daughters. It seems to have given my little birds a solid nest from which to launch.
Sometimes once we realize our worth, we need to step away from situations or people that aren’t good for us. Being a listening, supportive, and caring parent is important too. It’s hard not to want to solve all of the problems our kids will face, but sometimes it is for the best. How else will they learn the skills they’ll need later?
Has your kid dealt with Mean Girls? How did you help your child deal with it? Did you take over?
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