My teenager is the new kid on the block this year.
It’s just on the block, not in the whole city: she’s still at her same high school. But within that same school, she’s on a brand-new team. She’s doing something she’s never done before in a school setting. She fully earned her spot, but she’s a newbie in the group.
The focus of her team is comfortably inside her comfort zone, but merging with teammates who’ve already bonded with each other is decidedly outside it. My high-schooler has a naturally reserved personality that is not standoffish but can come across that way. She’s cautious and careful. She’s not a burst-onto-the-scene kind of girl.
A few days before the start of the school year, I picked her up from practice and asked how it was going. “Okay,” she told me. Since “okay” is usually teen code for “not okay,” I started frantically searching my mom mental reserves for some sort of relevant wisdom I could proffer. But then, mercifully, my daughter told me she’d gotten good advice from one of her most trusted counselors: her big sister.
How to Help Your Teen Make Friends at School
1. Make the small gestures. You don’t have to barge into a group conversation, introduce yourself, and do a song and dance. You don’t have to make a big show. But you can take small steps. You can make eye contact with one person. You can smile at someone. You can say “hi” as you’re walking into practice together. You can pay someone a genuine compliment. If you’re all standing around waiting for something to happen, tell another team member you like her shirt or that she did a good job on a particular skill.
2. Speaking of standing around, when that’s happening, don’t park yourself 10 feet away from the rest of the group. You don’t want to invade everyone else’s space—you’re trying to break down walls, not run roughshod over personal boundaries—but you can and should stand close enough to let them know you want to be part of their interaction.
3. And speaking of letting people know you want to be a team player, show with your body language that you’re interested in friendship and connection. Here again, make eye contact. Stay in the vicinity of the rest of the group. Hold onto a water bottle or a piece of equipment from what you’re doing if you need something to do with your hands, but keep an approachable posture. You can’t expect your classmates or teammates to think you’re open to conversation if you’re standing apart from them with your hands folded across your chest and your eyes on the ground.
4. And speaking of letting people know you’re interested in friendship, remember that others are hesitant, too. You’re not the only one who’s unsure about taking a chance on interaction. If you want to make new friends, you need to show that. Don’t make everyone guess whether or not you’re interested in conversation. Don’t keep your desire to be more than just a name on the roster a secret. You need to put the “open for business” sign in your window if you want someone to walk in the door of relationship.
5. And speaking of opening the door, don’t always wait for someone else to do that first. The people on your team or in your class who already know each other might be comfortable with their circle as it is, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t willing to expand. And other newbies might also be waiting for “someone else” to make the first move. You just might have to be the one to ask the ice-breaker question or make the initial gesture or send the opening message.
All this isn’t about becoming someone you’re not; it’s about letting people know who you are. It’s not about looking needy; it’s about showing what you want. At first, you’ll probably feel like you’re way out of your comfort zone. You might miss the familiar streets of your old “neighborhood.” But pretty soon—probably when you’re not looking for it—you’ll realize you’re not the new kid anymore…and that the block you’re on feels like home.
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Elizabeth Spencer is mom to two daughters (one teen and one young adult) who regularly dispense love, affection, and brutally honest fashion advice. She writes about faith, food, and family (with some occasional funny thrown in) at Guilty Chocoholic Mama and avoids working on her 100-year-old farmhouse by spending time on Facebook and Twitter.