Are you unable to fit in with everyone else because you’re different? Imagine a world where ‘different’ is all the rave… would you still feel the same way? Everyone wants to fit in, be part of something, and belong to some group. Humans are social animals. This is why social media is so popular. People have a fascination with each other. Some try to be unique by copying others, which really is not that unique at all. The special ones set a standard for themselves that is all their own and get others to follow their lead.
Groups at School
There is a natural tendency for groups to form in school. The formation of these groups follows typical stereotypes. Each group has its own slang name. Athletes are the “jocks.” Computer lovers are the “geeks” or “nerds.” Drug users are the “stoners” and so on.
Some join a group because they like what the others in that group like, such as a style of dress/makeup for the “Goths” or a type of music. Others join groups to gain popularity.
The problem with putting labels on people is this becomes a limitation for individual expression. Balanced and self-actualized young people refuse these limitations. They have good self-esteem, like to make up their own minds, and do not necessarily follow the crowd. Maybe a Goth also wants to be a jock or a nerd or likes the same music as the stoners.
Some groups have psychological barriers that prevent others from joining. There is a sense of superiority these groups have over others. They try to act as if they are better than others, which of course they are not. In fact, the more intense this level of superiority is, an underlying weaker emotional foundation is likely to be present. A classic example of this is a bully who acts out at school, who may actually be a victim of abuse at home.
Being Unique Is Special
Peculiar is cool. If everyone were the same, it would be boring. One strange paradox about group dynamics and peer pressure happens when individuals trying to be so different end up looking exactly like everyone else in their group. Maybe you do not look at all like your parents, but you do look exactly like your friends.
Breaking the Rules of Social Interaction
If an opportunity arises that allows individuals to break down the fake barriers that keep them from getting to know each other, it is surprising to learn that many people have more in common than they expected.
The expansion of social media allowed groups to form on the Internet that are not limited by physical areas. Age appropriate communication with people from all over the world, who have a shared interest in positive interactions, is a good thing. It is important also, for young people to understand online risks in order for their Internet use to be safe.
An Inspiring Story from the Olivet Middle School
Many young people are aware that fake group boundaries at school are not good. The football players at Olivet Middle School in Michigan decided to do something about it. A student with a learning disability, Keith Orr, befriended them. Keith had the charming habit of going around the school hugging everyone. He wanted to be on the football team and the team wanted him to feel special.
The football players planned for weeks in secret how to create a special football play in two parts. The first part was to get the football as close to a scoring goal as possible. The second part was to let Keith carry the ball over the goal line to score, while surrounded by the rest of the team.
They pulled off the play spectacularly to the surprise of the crowd and the coach who knew nothing about the plans. The story made national news on CBS about three years ago. Keith said the feeling when he made a touchdown was “awesome.”
Keith went from being a “nobody” at the school to gaining acceptance of everyone, because when the football players accept someone, every other student pretty much goes along with the idea as well. The actions of the students taught everyone at their school and in their community that Keith’s uniqueness was cool. The international attention that the event received taught millions more.
The amazing part of the story was that not only was there a transformation in Keith’s life, but the lives of all the other middle school football players transformed as well. Keith’s parents and the school staff were astounded that the students came up with this idea all on their own.
The Harlem Globetrotters gave the seventeen members of the Olivet Eagles the Globetrotters Junior Phenom Award, which allowed them to have free tickets to see a Globetrotter’s game and receive their award certificates with the recognition of thousands of Globetrotter fans. The Globetrotters are very active in anti-bullying campaigns making presentations at over 300 schools every year.
Inclusion not Exclusion
It is clear that the Olivet Middle School students learned that inclusion beats exclusion and so did the over 8 million viewers of the CBS video segment on YouTube.
There is a national trend in America to include students with disabilities in sports. The United Nations has a campaign to promote these efforts, which started around nine years ago and is endorsed by the group called “Right to Play.” Right to Play uses play to overcome the negative impact of poverty, conflict, and disease in disadvantaged communities worldwide.
As noted in the U.N. report, persons with disabilities who engage in sports receive these benefits:
- Reduction of the stigma of being disabled
- Improved social skills
- A feeling of independence and empowerment
The American Association of Pediatrics recommends that participation in sports for disabled children needs to consider the overall health of each child, what activities they like, what safety precautions are necessary, and have access to programs and equipment that are appropriate. In general, there should be fewer barriers to inclusion.
Other Kinds of Special
Children with disabilities are only one type of unique children. Many young people experience social isolation from a variety of other factors. These factors include:
- Fashion sense in style of dress
- Shyness and social awkwardness
- Skin problems, such as severe acne
- Issues with puberty
- Sexual identity
No matter what the cause is, the results are harmful to young people. Teachers and parents need to be very observant of these issues. Young people need to find more ways to support each other. Many of the motivations for tragic school shootings come from young people who feel socially isolated. Everyone should do as much as possible to reduce this problem.
There are ways to embrace uniqueness and build up self-esteem. The example from the Olivet Middle School shows that young people are realizing the importance of being respectful of others and trying to do something nice for someone else.
Even though the bullying problem persists, most schools now have a zero tolerance for bullying and anti-bullying campaigns increase awareness among young people that bullying is not acceptable.
Any young person who feels socially isolated should try to reach out to others. There are plenty of groups that welcome all youth participation, such as the Junior Optimist Club, Junior Achievement, Future Farmers of America and many others.
If you happen to see someone being picked on, who does not seem to have any friends, then why not say hello and become a friend to them, just like the football players at Olivet Middle School did for Keith. If everyone followed their example, the results could be amazing.