Guest Author - Cynthia Parker
So many people will tell you that bullying is much worse than being ostracized by your peers. I believe that it depends upon the person who is the victim of either and how they are able to handle the situation. In my opinion, being ostracized is worse than being bullied.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services at stopbullying.gov, bullying is “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.” They go one to state that “Kids who bully use their power—such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others.”
This same site includes leaving someone out on purpose or telling someone not to be friends with another as forms of bullying. These behaviors can be considered ostracizing to a degree; however, very often ostracizing is much more extreme.
For most people it is hard to imagine that a child could find not group in which he/she fit in, but it happens more often than you think. To ostracize is “to refuse to accept (someone) in society or a group.” (www.thefreedictionary.com) I think that it is important that “society” is listed before “a group” in this definition. When someone is ostracized from a group, they can generally find others to accept them, which lessens the pain and provides another outlet for social activities. But when someone is ostracized from society, they are an outcast, alone, and have no such outlets.
For school-aged children, their classmates are their “society”. We all know that society is full of “cliques” with certain unwritten/unspoken criteria for “belonging”. (Some even have written criteria, but that is fodder for another article.) When a child cannot seem to locate a group to which he is accepted and he feels a valuable connection, his sense of self-worth is significantly and negatively impacted. The older the child (elementary age vs. teens,) the larger the impact.
It is hard to determine what rationale groups use to reject certain individuals. As adults, we know that gender and socio-economics status, race and ethnicity, can factor into the decision-making process. For children, it can be something as simple as the style of clothing worn, the activities enjoyed, or the grades they make. My oldest daughter was a B/C student in school, so when her grades slipped to Ds, I was very concerned. She told me quite bluntly that it was “not cool to make good grades.” My insistence that she disregard this criteria of cool cost her friendships and created a struggle to find another group of friends. However, she learned a valuable lesson in that some friendships are not beneficial in the long run.
In high school, in order to belong, you must be pretty, or smart, or rich, or dress well, or know a lot about cars, or have an interest in journalism, …. The list is extensive. There are times when teens experience one rejection after another to the point where they stop looking because each rejection is more painful than the one before it.
I remember wanting to be a member of the Keywanettes in high school. The club was supposed to be a service organization focused on the school and the surrounding community. I wanted to help; how hard could it be to get in? The applicant had to possess a certain GPA and class standing, then had to submit an application and an essay explaining why they wanted to be a part of the Keywanettes. I met the advertised criteria, so I submitted my application and essay…then began the tension-filled wait for the decision. While I was waiting, I learned that an applicant had to have the support of five members to be considered for a vote. If that support was evident, then the club would vote on the individual and their membership would be determined by the majority. I never made it to the vote. I was not surprised; the girls involved in the group all felt they were superior to me and other girls like me. They needed to keep their world in their control. They did by keeping others out.
Yes, it is so true than teens just need to keep looking to find the right group for them. But after you hear you are not wanted so many times, it is very difficult to continue to ask. Help your teens find out about all of the activities and clubs that are available in their high school. These groups should be listed on the school web site or in the school’s handbook. Help him or her focus on areas where they have an established interest along with a few new interests they want to explore. If they are taking a foreign language, the club associated with that language will give them extra practice and a chance to make learning fun by learning about the culture. If they already enjoy reading, a book club is an obvious choice. If they have already had trouble with being rejected from certain clubs or activities, find organizations where they do not have to apply for membership or be approved to join. There are more of these types of organizations than ones with approval processes.
There was a girl with whom I went to school who got rejected from various organizations so many times that she eventually found herself in a CAD design club because it was the only one that accepted her. She knew no one in the club; however, she found that she had a talent for CAD, made new friends based upon common interests, and discovered a talent which led her to a profitable career.
Too often teens give up before they find their niche. We encourage them to be themselves and to be original. All they really want is to fit in. If we are going to give them this advice, then we have to take the time to help them use it to their benefit. Get involved and show your teen their value through helping them pursue their interests. Help them be who they are intended to be.