By Jake Davis, School Counselor
“You are imperfect, you are wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.”
― Brené Brown
A sense of belonging is a human need, just like the need for food and shelter. Feeling that you belong adds value to life and supports our ability to cope with intense and painful emotions. This basic human need is paramount in adolescence.
In so many ways teens are more connected than ever before. Surely, most teens today have either a smart phone, tablet, personal computer, or all of the above. As we know, this has opened the world for all of us in so many positive ways. At the same time, there is some fall out. Today’s teens spend less time with their friends outside of school than ever before. Social time with friends has shifted from activities like walking to the movie theater with your friends on the weekend to chatting on a device using Skype, Snap Chat, or Discord from the comfort of their bedroom. These apps are certainly amusing, entertaining, and pleasurable. Adults enjoy connecting through these tools as well. In a sense, they support us in achieving a sense of belonging. At the same time, some feel a strong sense of loneliness and rates of depression and anxiety continue to be on the rise.
Dr. Niobe Way from New York University has researched another factor in the reason so many teens are experiencing disconnects and asserts that toxic masculinity is fueling an epidemic of loneliness. In late adolescence, boys feel they have to “man up” by becoming stoic and independent. As Dr. Kelly Moore has taught us, our culture works to put our boys in the “boy box” and our girls in the “girl box.” Stepping outside of these boxes puts their sense of belonging at risk. Intimate friendships and connections can appear threatening to boys who stay inside the cultural box they have been placed in. They are more likely to feel strong loneliness. Social exclusion, depression and increased aggression are all more likely when our basic need for a sense of belonging isn’t met.
From Seattle Children’s Teenology blog:
So what advice can be offered to parents regarding raising teens who know how to have close friendships, strong social connection, and feel like they are not alone?
- Foster face-to-face connection. Encourage participation in activities outside of the home. This includes sports, clubs, community events, youth groups, a place of worship, or simply spending in-person time with friends & family. Do invite your teen to have their friends come over for dinner or a family movie night. Do attend their extracurricular events when possible.
- Be an example of a good friend. Reach out if you need support and offer to listen if someone needs a confidant. Then keep the trust but not sharing information unless someone is at risk of harm or given permission.
- Show it is ‘ok’ to have a full range of emotions. My Dad and I had differing views on politics, but one thing he showed me (and my sister & 2 brothers) was that it is absolutely ok to exhibit all emotions. He cried at every family gathering, expressed joy with each small accomplishment, and never missed an opportunity to give a hug and tell us he loved us.
- Have technology breaks. Turn off social media during critical family times like meals or family outings.
- If you’re worried, say something.