In my fifteen years as a clinician, I’ve worked predominantly with adolescents and young adults. I’ve always appreciated teenagers- there is such magic in that developmental period of trying on many different hats and identity exploration.
On countless occasions, I’ve had teenagers brought to my office by their parents, seeking support because their child isn’t meeting the expectations set by someone in authority (the school system, or the culture at large, or the athletic coaches, or the parents themselves). They don’t learn in a traditional way and don’t want to go to school, or they don’t want to participate in certain activities (ahem, ahem…sports…gym class, often). They aren’t active at family events, or just don’t like to go to them. They are too quiet and reserved, or too loud and effusive. They just want to read, or draw maps, or do some other solo activity. Or, they just want to socialize and be with their friends, and aren’t taking their studies seriously enough. They don’t dress right. They don’t hang out with the right people. Etcetra, etcetera.
Much of the time, I’ll spend some time with these kids, and come to the same conclusion, which I then share with the parents: Good news! Your kid is all right.
More than all right, actually. Here’s some thoughts for parents that find themselves in the lucky position of having a child that doesn’t quite fit in:
Your child has gifts that are not ordinary, and this is tremendously awesome news.
Albert Einstein said, “The person who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The person who walks alone is likely to find himself in places no one has ever seen before.” Given support and encouragement, an awkward teenager that doesn’t fit in can grow into a confident and unique adult with something brand new to create or share or teach. This is a gift to the world, should we choose to recognize it as such – a chance to grow and to expand and to learn, and maybe experience something beautiful. There are so many thousands of one-note voices out there singing. What a relief it is to hear original song!
Your child has Courage. More than most adults.
If your kid is different, and knows he is different, and is bravely choosing to continue on being that anyway rather than smoosh himself into a box, than he is demonstrating courage beyond measure and deserves some applause from the adults in his life. Many grown-ups aren’t strong enough to be who they really are. It is an act of vulnerability to test out just being yourself, and whether or not parents encourage or squelch that vulnerability will impact him for the rest of his life.
Your child’s questioning what is important is super valuable.
If your child learns differently, and she makes it known that she learns differently (rather than hiding the fact out of shame or fear), she creates a need for alternative learning strategies to be implemented in schools. If your child doesn’t excel in Math but makes glorious and interesting projects in Art, he is both Smart and Capable, just in an artistic area. His art pushes us to consider that, rather than cutting from Arts’ budgets and stressing “core subjects”, we might do well to invest in all areas of schooling, to accommodate for the varied and multiple gifts of all individuals. Given the chance, a child that doesn’t fit in can grow into an adult that demands that society makes room to include them, and this means things become better and more inclusive for us all.
Different people learn and contribute and behave in different ways. Individuals that don’t “fit” remind us that there is always room to stretch the proverbial box. Without that freedom, what a small and artless world we have!
You have an opportunity, if you have the privilege of a child that does not fit in, to support the growth of someone who can make the world a little more colorful, beautiful, and interesting. Rather than trying to fit them into a box, why not widen the lines of the box for them, and make room for them to be who they are? Allow being a misfit to be the awesome experience it has the potential to be .