When Your Teen Is Feeling Excluded
You might not know it yet but all kids experience this: You’re not invited to the party. Your tween or teen overhears some whispering about a party. Sounds like everyone is invited. But your child is left out. Your first reaction is disbelief: “Are you sure you weren’t invited to the party?” With shock and possibly rage, you wonder what you should do. In this series of four videos, Dr. Lisa Damour, author of Untangled, explains ways parents can help their teenagers handle the difficult, yet not uncommon, experience of being left out and feeling excluded.
Video #1: Should I Call the Other Parent?
Transcript: When your daughter doesn’t get invited to a party, you might feel compelled to pick up the phone and call the parent who’s hosting the party and ask what’s going on. Before you do, I’d encourage you to ask, “Why am I picking up the phone?”
If you’re picking up the phone because your daughter is upset, you might want to think about the fact that your job as a parent is not to solve her problems for her. It’s to help her solve her own problems. So, maybe she needs to repair a relationship with a friend. Or maybe she needs to build a broader social net—a social safety net—so that she has other friends to hang out if she doesn’t get invited to a party. Or, maybe she needs to join you guys for a Friday night where she feels left out and then learn to rebound from that.
Finally, if your daughter is really okay with not getting invited to the party, then you need to feel okay that she didn’t get invited to the party. There are times when we do step in and intervene for our children. But only when our children are suffering and cannot advocate for themselves.
Video #2: The Shame of It.
Transcript: You may be wondering, is my kid the only one not getting invited to the party? In all likelihood, no. And who knows why your child wasn’t invited to the party? Maybe they could only have 10 kids, and your daughter didn’t make the cut. Or, maybe your daughter isn’t as keen on that host as you thought she was. She didn’t invite the host to a party that she had. But when our kid doesn’t get invited to a party, it actually inspires more shame than we like to talk about. That when our kids are being left out, that we feel like some judgment is being leveled on them as a person and as a function of that on us as parents. And when we operate from shame, we tend not to make the best choices.
When I hear about phones that get picked up and calls that get made in a rush when parents try to defend their child, I think that usually is the parent feels ashamed, that there is something not good enough in their child, which means there’s something not good enough in them. My experience as a psychologist is when shame is in play it is always good to talk about it, think about it, reflect on it, and see if it even makes sense before you act on it.
So you can say to yourself, “Are there things my child could be doing differently or better? And how can I help her do them?” Or you could say, “My kid isn’t going to be everybody’s cup of tea. I am not going to be everybody’s cup of tea. So we find the people we enjoy and we spend the time with them.
Video #3: Approach it as a Life Lesson.
Transcript: As much as disappointments like this can be painful for you and your teen, you should take them as opportunities to offer your teen some of the best lessons you’re ever going to teach. And those are the lessons that life often does not go our way. We all have to face disappointment and that’s not something that should stop us in our tracks.
In fact, when you look around at the adults who are the most successful and the most happy, they’re not people for whom things have gone perfectly; they’re people who know what to do when things don’t go right. They can accept the fact that things aren’t always going to go right. So, help your daughter make the distinction between things she likes and things she can handle. She may like going to parties, and she can handle not always getting invited to parties. And it’s a real vote of confidence for kids to have their parents remind them that there are many, many things they can handle. Even if they don’t like those things.
Video #4: Teen Boys Are Different
Transcript: So boys get left out too. But you may have a different response to it. You may have a different response because your son has a different response. Boys sometimes don’t express feeling upset about social slights and there are a few different reasons for this. One, they seem to be bothered less. When we look at the research on boys and stress and social stress, they are less upset by social problems than girls are by social problems.
Another reason is we teach boys not to express feelings in the same way we teach girls to express their feelings, so your son may actually be upset but he may not be showing it. One good option is to use what psychologists call “displacement,” where we talk about feelings but not as if they belong to the child. So you could say to your son “You know, I understand that the neighbor boy was really disappointed when he got cut from the baseball team.” It’s a very gentle way of putting language and feelings on the table.
Some kids feel like “Wow, you understand” and they silently walk away feeling some relief and understanding. Other kids may feel like that’s an invitation to have a conversation they did want to have. If you think he’s really just as fine with that as he seems to be then let it go. One of the advantages that boys have is that they can distract themselves when they’re upset. This means they feel better faster than girls and they move on more quickly.
Dr. Lisa Damour is a clinical psychologist in private practice and director of the Laurel School’s Center for Research on Girls in Shaker Heights, Ohio.