David Altshuler, M.S.
(305) 978-8917 | [email protected]

“That Kid”

How frequently do you enjoy being told that you’re wrong? By whom? Under what circumstances? You need to change; you are not okay as you are; you’re ugly and your mother dresses you funny. Nobody wants to hear that. I bet you’re pretty happy with your religious beliefs, for example. Few people attend a different service every weekend. Nobody changes allegiances for favorite sports teams. You’ve likely immersed yourself into a community of those who share your understandings. The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, Kiwanis, churches, synagogues, mosques, even running groups, reinforce who we are, what we think, how we connect. I have nothing but respect for race car drivers, opera singers, and hang gliders, but jumping out of a perfectly good airplane just isn’t my scene. Whereas running through ankle deep mud in a fetid swamp with several hundred of my closest friends makes perfect sense to me. I have lots to talk about with similarly minded loonies. I have little desire to change who I am, what I do. The great thing about being an adult is that I can choose to wake up at oh dark hundred and plod through the fog with my wonderfully snarky running buddies. Nobody can tell me that I should go to the opera instead.

Now imagine to the contrary being wrong all the time, being marginalized by teachers, peers, even parents. Think about being that kid, the one who doesn’t fit in, who doesn’t “get it “in the classroom, on the athletic field, at the community center. Consider being the kid who has to stay after class to “meet with the teacher,” who struggles to get a C, who can’t get a date, who wonders why no one will sit with them in the cafeteria. Imagine going to the math tutor, the dentist, and the therapist, both occupational and psychological–and those are just the appointments for Wednesday. All of these well intentioned professionals may be trying to be helpful, but their fundamental message is the same: you’re not okay as you are, you need to change. And not just change religious affiliation or preference for the home team, you need to transform your entire self.

We could talk in another column about how the misfit is more likely to self-medicate or misbehave or do something tragic. For now, just think about an adolescent who learns differently, who is socially awkward, who doesn’t make friends easily, being told that their way of thinking about things–their way of being–is wrong. All day. Every day. Year in and year out. Different day, same message.

I toured a school last week where all of the students had been “that kid.” The facility was unexceptional, dusty, in need of a paint job. The dorms were adequate—B-/C+. Michelin restaurants have nothing to fear from the cafeteria. Muddy athletic fields, no swimming pool, under-resourced drama room. In short, nothing to look at. Fortunately, I learned hundreds of tours ago not to judge an institution by its environs.

Because the testimony of the students was empowering. “At this school, I don’t have to be ‘that kid’” explained one student after another. “At my old school, I was the only gay kid, or the only high functioning autistic kid, or the only kid with a learning difference in math, or the only overweight kid.” (I don’t think I was the only consultant tearing up listening to adolescents who fit in, had a sense of belonging, for the first time.) “At this school, nobody judges me. I’ve learned more in a year here than in the previous three.”

Across the life span, everybody is looking for community and connection. But for adolescents, finding the people with whom they feel comfortable is a full-time job. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that kids who prefer the virtual world to the real one have a reason to do so. Can you imagine a young person preferring a virtual girlfriend to a real one? Neither can I.

Our responsibility as loving parents is to provide security for our kids, a foundation with which they feel comfortable, a place where they belong. Once they know that they are not alone and that it is okay to be who they are, they are much more likely to be able to form the associations of which you will be proud. As always, accepting them for who they are and not spending all your time trying to get them to change is a step in the direction of happy children and content families.

Picture of David Altshuler 2

David Altshuler 2

One thought on ““That Kid”

  1. Serena Eddy

    Hi David,

    After I passed along your regards to Jake, he told me that your blog was one of the few he reads. He sent me “That Kid” as evidence!

    I’m sold too, now 🙂 Please add me to your listserve!


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