There’s a big difference between fitting-in and belonging. Tweens and teens understand and experience the difference every day.
The Middle School Experience
The past few months, I’ve been spending time in classrooms doing research for my new book. I’m exploring the “weird stuff” that happens in middle school. I’ve asked over 100 tweens and teens, what should be included in this book and the responses have been powerful.
The most frequently shared response is….JUDGEMENT.
Not surprisingly, judgment fills the halls of middle school. Judgment on what you wear, who you hang out with, what you do or don’t do, etc.
Fitting-In Versus Belonging
This reminded me of researcher/author Brene Brown’s findings on belonging versus fitting in. In her book Rising Strong, Brene shares how middle school students described the difference between belonging and fitting it. Here’s what they said:
Fitting-In: when you want to be a part of something but others don’t want you to be
Belonging: when you want to be a part of something and you feel welcome
Brene also found that what’s even more difficult for kids is not belonging at home. They said things like:
“I’m an athlete and my parents think only stupid people are athletes.”
“My dad was captain of the football team and my mom was a cheerleader. It’s hard for them that I am not into that stuff.”
“It was really hard on my mom that I didn’t get asked to dance.”
Brene stresses that parents should focus on making sure our kids feel like they belong, letting go of the need for them to be popular, letting go of the need for them to be something they’re not.
True acceptance is a deep expression of love.
This doesn’t mean parents need to let go of rules and clear boundaries. It means cherishing kids for who they are, as they are. Encouraging them to be themselves instead of trying to fit-in.
My time in the middle school has been a vivid reminder of the importance of making sure my kids feel true belonging at home. I’ve been trying to notice if my expectations are overshadowing their path. Trying to give them space and encouragement to be themselves, which in middle school…is a true act of courage.
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