4 Ways Parents Can Help the Outcasts

Nelly Yuki
Nelly Yuki had a horrible high school experience but thrived at Yale. Courtesy of Gossip Girl Wiki

What do Kurt (Glee), Toby (Pretty Little Liars), Nelly Yuki (Gossip Girl), and Dale (Greek) all have in common?

They don’t quite fit in.

It can be an awkward or even painful experience for an adolescent to live on the outskirts of their high school society. It can also be awkward or painful for parents. What do you say? Do you push them to be “normal”? Do you try to force them to change so as to save them some heartache? Or do you let them be themselves and suffer?

Parents have the power to make the world bearable for high school outcasts. There are some concrete ways you can ease the pain of not fitting in.

Don’t make it about you

Seeing your child go through an awkward adolescence can bring back flashbacks of your own turmoil. If you were the odd man or woman out and it caused you pain, you may want to push your child not to be the same way. If you were pretty popular or had a lot of friends and enjoyed your time in high school, it can hurt and be confusing that your child isn’t having the same experience. But your child’s high school experience is not about you. So, throw your focus on your child and what you can do to help him.

Choose pressure points wisely

This is basically another way of saying, “Pick your battles.” There are times when you should push your child to behave differently. And there are times when you’ve got to back off and let them do their own thing. I’m not going to tell you which situations are which–it depends entirely on you, your child, and your family’s dynamic. But you with both end up frustrated if you try to micromanage your child’s behavior. They need outlets in which they can be themselves.

Celebrate ways your child is different

Your child is likely an outcast because he’s different somehow. Maybe he prefers to spend time in the chemistry lab than on the dance floor. I was the kid who spend hours upon hours with my head in books rather than chatting on the phone. When you figure out what makes your child different and unique, celebrate that! If your child is a bookworm, buy her more books! And encourage her to talk about the characters she meets and the things she’s learning about life. If your child feels that you’re okay with her difference, she’s more likely to accept herself.

Learn about what your child likes

There’s an episode of Grey’s Anatomy in which one of the patients is a teen and a passionate dancer. His father admits that when he had a son, he was looking forward to hockey games and cheering in the stands. When his son decided to become a dancer, he turned his focus toward that.

He cheers at recitals and has learned the names of various dance moves. He didn’t allow his disappointment to ruin dance for his son. Do the same for your child. Learn a little bit about whatever it is that they enjoy. It doesn’t mean you need to become an expert in the subject. But know enough that you’re able to have a conversation with your child about their passion and understand what they are saying.

Your child’s adolescence can be a time when they pull away from you and assert their own independence. But despite the fact that they are pushing you away, they still need you. Your unconditional love, support and nonjudgemental guidance can be crucial to your child getting through the last rough years of youth in one piece.

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6 Ways Teachers Can Help the Outcasts

Egbert – the mischievous badger who loves a good adventure

I have a 7 month old niece with whom I spend a lot of time, so Sprout TV (owned by PBS) has become a significant part of my life. One of my favorite shows is Poppy Cat. Poppy Cat (a calico kitty) has a group of friends that include an owl, a dog, a bunny, and a mouse. They go off on these great adventures and sometimes learn a little something about life in the process. Poppy Cat and her friends are great, but I love this show because of Egbert.

Egbert usually plays the “villain” in Poppy Cat’s adventures. I love watching him because he’s that kid who doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the group. He’s probably a very sweet boy, but he just doesn’t quite fit in. So when Poppy Cat asks if he wants to join in on their adventures, he always declines. But he still wants to play and use his imagination, so he basically crashes the adventure party.

I have a special place in my heart for kids who don’t quite fit in.

Alexandra Robbins takes an adventure that is both personal and intellectual as she finds support for quirk theory in The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth.

“Quirk Theory: Many of the differences that cause a student to be excluded in school are the same traits or real-world skills that others will value, love, respect, or find compelling about that person in adulthood and outside of the school setting.”

In the book, she follows high school students (and a teacher) in different parts of the country throughout the school year. They are each part of the “cafeteria fringe,” as she calls it. They, like Egbert, don’t quite fit in. She writes that she hopes parents and educators can use the information in the book to learn about the kids who live on the fringes of their high school society. And she hopes that the stories can give some hope to current members of the cafeteria fringe, so that have concrete proof that things do, indeed, get better.

I don’t know if Robbins knows anything about Poppy Cat and Egbert, but I have a sneaking suspicion she would agree with me that Egbert may be mischievous and socially awkward now but has the potential to be a CEO or politician.

As a former member of the cafeteria fringe and an educator, I think Robbins’ message is a wonderful one. Her book inspired me to share some ways in which teachers can help the outcasts in their schools.

Talk to the quiet kids.

I’ve been in front of a classroom of 30-something kids. So, I know it’s easy to concentrate on building a relationship with the kid who shouts, the kid who throws things, the kid who decides to paint her nails during a vocabulary lesson. They push themselves to the forefront of your mind and therefore get most of the attention. But the quiet kids need attention too.

Make an effort to ask them about their day or write a positive note on an assignment they completed well. If it won’t cause too much trouble, make things a little easier on yourself and put kids who demand attention in groups with kids who don’t. Having them in the same vicinity may make it easier for you to spread the love.

Keep an eye out for warning signs that a kid is in trouble.

You see your students several times a week, maybe even for several hours each day. You may notice if a child has gained or lost a lot of weight recently. If a student appears visibly upset or has shown a significant drop in academic performance, step in and ask what’s going on. If the student won’t talk to you, try to make sure they have someone to talk to by directing them to someone else (another teacher, the principal, a guidance counselor) who they can trust.

Take note of cafeteria structure.

Some schools require that teachers monitor the cafeteria during lunch periods. On your lunch duty day, take note of who is sitting with whom. What kids are sitting alone? Where are the popular kids? The jocks? The gamers? The goths? And make a note when these things shift. If the number of kids at the popular table suddenly drops in half, there may be some social turmoil going on that can spill over into your classroom. The cafeteria can also tell you where tensions are between groups which can help inform you about tensions you notice in your classroom during group activities.

Encourage the odd passions.

Our society tends to throw support behind mainstream interests. Sports are a big example of this, but your “mainstream” clubs and activities may differ depending on your school’s culture. If you find out a student has an odd passion, do what you can to encourage it. For a student who wants to design video games, an English teacher could encourage that student to use a video game idea as the subject for a creative writing assignment. Just showing interest in something a student loves can really boost their confidence.

Don’t let bullying go unanswered.

If you notice a student is being bullied, do something. Talk to the bully. Talk to the victim. Talk to parents. You’re in a position to help improve the situation before things get out of hand.

In order to help fight a bullying problem, you have to know about bullying. The infographic below gives some helpful information.

Celebrate your students’ differences.

Every student has the potential to bring something good to your classroom. Celebrate the ways your students are different by occasionally highlighting some of these positive differences. It may not be wise to call a student out in front of the class depending on the dynamics at your school and in your classroom. But you could call home and praise a student for how they offer different perspectives in class or how their diligence really shows even if they aren’t getting straight A’s.

Teachers are overworked (and in my opinion, underpaid). I get that. Believe me, I do. You don’t have time to be best buds with all 60 of your students. You can’t be an advisor to 15 student clubs. I’m not asking you to. Do what you feel you can do and get some of the other teachers in your school to cooperate. If everyone is looking out for bullies and helping support the cafeteria fringe, you can really make a difference in kids lives.

Photo Credit: the Villains Wiki

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