Dear Dr. Respler:
I am a 16-year-old girl who will begin her junior year in high school in September. I am an excellent student, quiet, well behaved and ambitious. My problem is that I don’t really have friends.
I am in a school where all the girls are in cliques; I don’t belong to any of them. I study during recess and lunch, and basically feel ignored by my classmates, who are polite but rather cold to me. They call me when they need help with schoolwork, but never invite me to any parties, gatherings or outings. I am miserable in school.
My teachers like me and they tell my parents that I am a great girl with good middos. My parents, quiet and unassuming people, lead a quiet home life. They do not socialize much, as they lack social skills. Additionally, we are rather poor.
My brother, my only sibling, is also a good student – and also very quiet. But he finds solace in his learning and in his rebbeim. He loves learning and doesn’t care too much about making friends. His only true friend is his great chavrusah.
Since my family and I live in a simple and messy apartment, I am embarrassed to invite anyone over. I have no one to talk to, and truly wish that I would have at least one friend in school.
I sometimes want to speak to the mechanechet, a wonderful person. But I am afraid to do so. Even though I wonder why she never reaches out to me, I guess that since I am so well behaved and the school loves me, she doesn’t realize how much I am suffering.
Please help me!
A Teenage Fan
Dear Teenage Fan:
My heart breaks as I read your letter. Your story is not uncommon. In my practice I come across young men and women who are suffering as you are. Many of them are helped by social skills training. Generally these skills are learned through modeling, but as it seems your parents are not the best role models, it would be difficult for you to have acquired them. However, you can still work on learning social skills through counseling at school or individual therapy.
It’s important to remember that the “popular” kids are not always those with the best middos. Although in high school there is more of an emphasis on character development than in elementary school, our schools have a long way to go.
It seems like it would be a good idea to speak with your mechanechet. As you noted, the school is probably not aware of how you feel and if you can take the first step, you may be able to get some help. Perhaps she can set up some kind of activity that will foster friendships. Many high schools have a gemach program wherein the students are required to fulfill a certain amount of chesed hours. It was actually my chesed activities that led me into the field of psychology. I used to visit a senior citizen home every Sunday with a group of friends.
Besides being a vehicle to help others, these chesed programs foster friendships between the girls. This year you will be entering eleventh grade. If you can turn your situation around this year, you will have ample time to develop new friendships. Perhaps if you speak with the school social worker/school psychologist or seek outside therapy, you can also simultaneously work on improving your social skills, which will make it easier for you to reach out to fellow students. Are you friendly to others? Do you compliment your classmates? Do you initiate conversations and try to be positive? Perhaps you become so anxious that you freeze. Counseling can be helpful to ameliorate this situation.