Last night at our annual home-school co-op ice cream social, some of our teen members performed a short but clever skit. The skit dealt with reasons some of our teens may not feel comfortable the first couple of times they attend one of our teen events. Unless we have a “natural born star” personality, most of us fall somewhere between having an occasional moment of self-doubt/awkwardness and being an anxiety ridden wallflower. As a speech-language pathologist, I’ve worked with many pre-teens and teens who have had trouble using their language skills in social settings. From these experiences, I realized that the following five “radical notions” would be helpful for anyone to know (especially if you’re like me and sometimes struggle with new situations and new people).
So here you go, the top 5 things you need to know:
- You are not invisible. Despite the fact that, at times, it may seem as though you must be invisible (because no one is talking to you) you are not. You may share Peter Parker’s self-obsessions with loneliness, inadequacy and rejection, but you do not have any of Spider-man’s superpowers. Sorry. So…where does that leave you? Instead try asking someone a question, like “how are you?” or “Are you taking any outside classes this year?” Result? Best case, you just started a nice conversation—yeah, you! Worst case? They could be a jerk and ignore you, but if so, you don’t want to be friends with them anyway.
- People may actually mistake your shyness as unfriendliness or worse, snobbishness. Everyone feels shy at times. You are not the only person in the room struggling with shyness. If someone pushes beyond his or her comfort zone and asks a question to start a conversation with you, be sure to answer with a full sentence. Don’t just smile and shrug your shoulders. They will quickly walk away. It’s like playing catch: someone tosses you the ball ( a question), you catch the ball (you answer it) and then you toss it back to them (make an additional comment or ask them a related question).
- Put your phone away and participate in the activity around you. You can tweet and facebook about it later. The main reasons for being at a social activity are to have fun and make more friends (to text and tweet in the future). You can’t do either if you are staring at your phone. Use your internet access before the social event to learn what’s going on in your community and world so you’ll have something to talk about and contribute to conversations.
- Stop worrying, no one is really watching you that closely. They are too busy having fun! If you are asked to join a game or activity, don’t be so self-conscious about possibly “messing up” that you don’t even try. Others will respect you for trying. If you can take yourself out of your own worries and put your energy into your life, you’ll find that you don’t have time to worry so much. Here’s what I mean: Ask people how they are or what they’ve been doing and focus on them instead of yourself. Appear interested in what they have to say and soon you will find that you really are interested and that you’ve made a new friend.
- You are like a magnet; you can choose to attract or repel others. No one wants to approach the new kid who’s lurking on the outer edges of the group with his arms crossed, scowling at the world and wearing a wool dress coat (and it’s 105 in the shade). On the other hand, you can do the hard thing— by smiling and joining in conversations–and it will be worth it in the end.