Everything is accessible these days. From parties to viewpoints via Instagram to tweets, there is literally someone out there for you. Someone who thinks or acts like you, or who wants to spend this very minute doing what you want to do too. If you think it, it’s available. Yet a child in today's hi-tech world is arguably subject to more exclusion than they would have been 10 or even 5 years ago. With every person online that is an ally, there are about a million more who aren’t. And these people often remind a child that the child is not accepted, whether because of the way they look, act, think, feel, or just are. Locally, Snapchats of parties and events can feel very isolative to the uninvited child. Watching friends and others in the neighborhood bond over a specific issue that does not resonate with you can feel oddly oppressive, if not simply antagonistic. Even as adults, the hi-tech world forces this "you snooze, you lose" mentality. It’s the water cooler talk about what happened on the hot shows last night magnified, like, 10 fold. Now, the spoilers are up on Facebook before the ending credits, and adults and kids alike find it hard not to be Johnnyonthespot with their reactions. I’ve seen people apologize for posting one-day late RIP comments as if somehow not reacting within the first 30 minutes of a publicized death means you really just don’t care enough. And none of this fast paced-ness even touches on the hurt feelings that can occur as a part of cyberbullying.
As a parent, it’s hard. Lectures about being yourself and chats about how real friends wouldn’t do these things don’t go a long way when the entire universe seems to be pulsing at the same rhythm and not pulsing with it feels akin to being an outcast. So what CAN you do as a parent when you hear your child flip because they feel alone? • Listen. It's important to not negate your child's feelings. By telling them it's "not a big deal," you're sending them the message that they can't trust their own feelings. Everyone, even chips off the ol’ block, have their own barometer of emotions. What means a great deal to you might be peanuts to them, and vice versa. Ask yourself how many times you’ve been able to just snap into cool when someone has told you to “just calm down.” Plus, not accepting your child’s experience usually means they will be less likely to open up to you about hurtful things in the future. • Empathize. Relate. If it’s true, let them know you would be upset too. If it’s not, find the thread of relatability in the situation. For instance, tell them of a disappointing time you had growing up, or a time when you felt like you didn’t have a friend in the world. The importance here is to be truthful. Kids tend to know when you're patronizing them, and they will stop listening if they think you are. • Distract. Your child will need to process through their hurt feelings, but not when those feelings are raw. After you've empathized with them, ask them if they want to go grab a slice of pizza or some ice cream. The time "away" from the problem can give just enough distance that your child will be able to start looking at the problem in a less emotional light. • Help them cope. All children look to their parents for how to cope with disappointment. How you handle a situation will often dictate how they will learn to handle it as well. Once your child is calm, talk to them about their feelings. Ask them about the situation and try to shed some light on the issue. Perhaps they weren't invited to a party because they didn't know the host very well. Or perhaps the child throwing shade at your kid does so because they honestly don’t like them. And get this. That happens. Even as adults. So now would be a great time to help them process through why the two don't get along and whether or not it matters. Talk to them about how you deal with things when someone doesn’t like you. Be real. Be honest. Be there.
A child is going to face a myriad of disappointments in their lives. They will not always be liked, nor will they always be as popular as they want to be. They will lose jobs, have terrible relationships, and most likely will do something that would embarrass your whole family if it was publicized. That’s life. And it is our job as parents to give them the tools to cope with that knowledge without hatred, anxiety, or self-loathing.