There are moments in our lives when we will know the meaning of what it feels like to belong. Just the same, most of you will never know what it feels like to not belong and how that feeling can hinder the very person we become. Teenagers need to feel connected with the people outside of their families, often relying on friends to take on that role.
But what happens if you feel like the oddball?
When you get labeled a geek, a freak, or just get told you aren’t good enough?
Do you remember what it was like to be a teenager? I sure do. Although I belonged to many things, none of them ever really felt “right.”
Some teenagers struggle with simple things we forget about as adults and how confidence plays such a big part in the life of a teenager. It affects everything the youth thinks from that point going forward.
Maybe they don’t know where to go.
Not knowing who will be there.
Believing no one will understand what to do.
Most importantly, not understanding why they don’t belong.
The sense of “Belonging” is crucial in our lives
From the moment we are born, we are immediately “a part of something.” We belong to a family. For us all, we are welcomed into loving arms and homes and will be taken care of in ways most of us would expect. As we get older and head off to school, we belong to a grade, a class, and a school. Once we are old enough, we belong to “that soccer team,” “that dance academy,” or “that boy scout troop.”
At an early age, we begin to learn what it means to belong with parents reminding us “That doesn’t belong to you” if we take something that isn’t ours. In those moments, we believe that “belonging” is a possession. Something you can see and touch. Something we own.
As teenagers, we belong to a group of friends, a lunch table, and a graduating class. We associate with certain members of the baseball team or the DECA club. If we are out of class when we shouldn’t be, a teacher might say, “Where should you be?” (Essentially, we are being reminded of where we belong.)
Once we are adults, we belong to a “neighborhood,” a “church,” and an “employer.” At some point, we begin to associate with certain groups because of our kids — the parents who help organize the car washes for the cheerleaders, for example.
“Belonging is a way for us to connect to each other, but more important, it is a way for us to connect to who we are.”
Some times, we belong to things we know we shouldn’t…
Maybe we hang out with the wrong crowd at school, just to fit in the with popular kids. Or we go to a certain church just it’s the “family” church.
We allow the thoughts of of others to decide for us, instead of trusting our own thoughts and emotions to decide for us.
There are many ways we are connected to one another (just ask Kevin Bacon), but what happens when we feel like we are missing that sense of association. Life changes are therefore, our connections and our circumstances of belonging also change. Once we are older, it is easy to process and understand why things change.
However, when you are a teenager, the biggest concern you have is belonging.
You see, when you are a teenager, your sense of belonging isn’t a sense of being “property” anymore, it’s about having a “tribe” that is just yours.
And when you don’t “fit in” for whatever reason, you lose every bit of of self-worth along with every ounce of confidence.
Teenagers especially identify with who they are with who they belong with when it comes to their peer groups. At their young age, being “different” creates more stress in their lives than having to forgo of what actually feels right. They don’t want to give the illusion that they are a little afraid of letting people see them for who they really are or have a few doubts.
Younger minds need that sense of belonging to know how they rank in the “pecking order” of junior high and high school and when those moments of connecting with others isn’t their, it literally can feel like their world is caving in.
Nowadays, kids do not understand the need to find who they are before they start falling into lines with whoever happens to suit their wants at the time. (I say wants because too often kids are unable to differentiate between wants and needs, although those words have very different meanings.)
Instead, they feel the need to sacrifice (at times) everything that makes them unique and wonderful, never appreciating that by being who they really are might be the very reason people like them.
Teenagers find their answers in others
The constant outward needing of approval by today’s teenagers is where they find their self-worth, their self-validation, and their self-image. ALL of it is defined by the opinions of others merely because they are viewed to be what that teenager wants to be. It’s time that the teenagers today started a little closer to home when it comes to introspect.
Even the slightest amount of acceptance into a group can dramatically alter the outlook a teenager has when it comes to his or her life in general. Being selected to be on the school’s tennis team or being elected as the class president can boost a teenager’s feelings of worth in the smallest of ways.
On the other hand, feelings of inadequacies, bouts of depression, and fits of anger all begin to surface when teenagers question their lives and yet the parents believe that their child is doing just find — bringing home straight A’s, being involved with band, and volunteers at the local senior center.
Even Sally Field might have had some doubt about her belonging to the elite members of Academy Awards winners for motion pictures until she was given an Oscar for her role in “Places of the Heart” by declaring, “You like me! You really like me!” during her acceptance speech.
Belonging starts with the individual, not the group
We, as adults, must instill in them the confidence to be who they are by reminding them that when they are true to themselves, they will find where they belong. As they travel the road of discovery, they will find roads that were never meant for them as well as the roads that were built especially for them.
It is imperative that the kids travel that road of self-discovery in order to find where they “fit.” We can’t tell them. They have to find out for themselves.
To do that, they will have to try a few things and they need to recognize the difference between “belonging to” something and “belonging with” something. They must truly trust in everything that makes them who they are and allow their light to shine.
“Nothing can dim the light that shines from within.” – Maya Angelou
Michelle A. Homme 2016 ©