Parenting Your Teenager: What to Do When Your Teen Feels Left Out

On a recent Saturday evening, I noticed a young teen-age girl crying alone. My first impulse was to go over and check on her. Worried that my approach might be taken the wrong way, I just smiled at her and went in the store to meet my wife. I forgot about it until we came out to the car.

Same girl, still crying.

My wife went to see what was going on. Turns out that the girl was upset because she'd been treated badly by some friends and felt left out. My wife told her she went through that, too, as a kid. Then the girl hit her with the big question:

"Does it get any better?"

Does it? Well, yes and no.

The yes part

When you are young, it seems almost like life and death. As you get to the other side of the current crisis, you are able to gain some perspective, and it feels less urgent and hurts just a little less. As you learn to effectively deal with these situations, it can definitely get better.

But getting left out always hurts. This is because having a sense of belonging is one of our greatest emotional needs. This is especially true when you are young. I've noticed that the teens and the parents both have a part to play in handling these painful situations.

Tips for teens

If you find yourself on the receiving end of being left out, there are some powerful things you can do. The most difficult is to ask what you might be doing that sets you up to get left out.

Another strategy is to realize that most often, being left out says so much more about them than it does about you. Seek other friendships.

Don't waste energy trying to fit into a group that thrives on excluding people. By becoming an includer and seeking out others, you build your own group and get to belong.

The choice to include others may go against what some of your friends want, but it will eventually make you more popular, because you end up with more friends and because you have a stronger character.

Tips for parents

Later that night, the girl's mom called to thank Lauren for talking with her.

Fortunately, the mom understands how important this struggle is to her daughter. Many parents do not.

What may seem like kid stuff to us is the whole world to them. When you consider that a teen's world is often made up of who you know, who you hang out with and who you are seen with, you can begin to understand the importance of this struggle.

This is one way teen-agers begin to learn how to deal with their own emotions, how to interact with others, and how to respond to disappointment. If they are bringing these situations to you, they are honoring you as parents. By treating the situation seriously, you honor them.

If you respond to their pain as if you think it's silly, you damage the relationship and virtually guarantee they will not come to you.

Let them know you understand how much it hurts and how important it is to them. Help them see that it may not be at all about them, but about the other person's poor choices. At the same time, help them identify any patterns of behavior that might be setting them up to get left out. Encourage them to seek out others.

You may be tempted to tell them your own stories of being left out as a kid. That's OK, as long as you listen to them and deal with their problems first.

Taking the situation seriously gives both of you a strong base from which to operate, to heal, and to handle this in a way that makes you both stronger.

Visit SecretsofGreatRelationships.com for tips and tools for creating and growing a great relationship. You can also subscribe to our f*r*e*e 10 day e-program on how to enrich your relationship today, from relationship coach and expert Jeff Herring.

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