Nowadays, in a world of Instagram and Snapchat Snap Maps, every time a group of teenagers meet it is instantly shared on social media, leaving anyone who wasn’t involved feeling excluded and rejected. As parents you may not have had to contend with social media when you were at school but feelings of rejection and friendship breakdown is common to every generation. Instinctively we all want to protect our own children from the pain it creates but what can you do to support them through something you have so little power to prevent?
We asked Melanie Allan, ESMS’s Counsellor to offer some advice to parents on how to help your children navigate rejection. Melanie gave us an interesting perspective and some useful tips:
1. Try and avoid being a “Curler parent”
The toughest part of being a parent is doing nothing. Building resilience is about letting young people fall down and working out how to get back up again. Childhood is supposed to be bumpy and if you adopt the role of “the sweeper” in a curling match, smoothing their path and solving their problems, it will be harder for them to learn how to negotiate their own bumps and get back on their feet.
2. Help them put the situation in perspective
If your child is feeling excluded over a meet up outside school that didn’t involve them, try and put the situation into perspective by helping them understand that it isn’t possible for everyone in a friendship group to be included, every single time. Gathering together in a smaller group does not make anyone mean or bad, nor does it indicate that those left out are less important.
3. Encourage your child to accept that some friendships have a natural sell-by date
Young people tend to think that friendships should be lifelong. But the reality is that between the ages of S1 and S4 most friendship groups will be tested and it is normal and natural for friendships to change and re-form during this period. As a parent this is hard to watch, often reminding us of our own painful experience but it is important that, unless your child is in crisis, try and not get involved. Although rejection is one of life’s most heart-breaking experiences it is also a crucial part of human development. Young people who develop the strength to challenge boundaries, tackle difficulties in friendships and survive rejection are more likely to recognise issues in their adult relationships. It helps them to build the confidence they need to move on, knowing from experience that they can survive and they won’t be without a group of friends forever.
4. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
Young people mature and develop at different ages. This means that when they get to senior school the interests that drew friends together can become less aligned. It is a good idea to encourage your child to have more than one friend or friendship group, including extra-curricular and non-school friends, so that as these changes occur, they are more likely to have someone that they share the same interests with.
5. Rejection and heart break make us stronger in adulthood
The feelings we get when we have our heart broken or when we end a relationship or friendship can be intense and traumatic. As parents you need to be supportive but while your own heart is breaking with the pain they are suffering, remember that they are developing vital survival skills and it is important that you give them space to learn these. Recognise and validate that what they are going through is tough, reassure them that they are amazing and they will survive, allow them to grieve but when it comes to a broken heart it is often their friends who are the best people to help them recover.
6. Encourage your child to be open to new friendships
When friendships breakdown it is natural to keep your head down in the hope that no one will notice you are alone. I like to remind young people that the moment you build the courage to look up and smile is the moment you begin to discover your next friendship.
7. Rejection can be the first step towards success
When young people don’t get the outcome they were hoping for, such as a place in a sports team, the leading role in a play or a coveted red blazer, the feelings of rejection and failure can be disappointing for the whole family. The most important thing to remember is that this does not mean that you or your child have failed, it is just a bump on the road to success.
Try talking to your child about the fact that they have an inbuilt Sat Nav. When life stops you from continuing in one direction you just need to give yourself time to recalculate. If you are determined and work hard you may get a second chance, or you may find yourself being offered an even better opportunity, different from the one you had initially set your mind to and one that you may never have otherwise considered.
8. Be kind to yourself
Parenting a teenager is hard. You are doing an amazing job and it will be some years before you will get the credit so remember to be kind to yourself.
If you have a subject that you would like Melanie to address in one of our newsletters please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org