Columnist

Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski is the founder and director of the Washington Health System Teen Outreach. She responds to 6–8 questions from young people daily and has written 'Ask Mary Jo' since 2005.

Q.I feel invisible. Sometimes I’m OK with it because being ignored means nobody makes fun of me. Other times I wonder what’s so awful about me that no one knows I’m alive. Can I change this? Should I?

–14-year-old

Mary Jo’s response: No one should feel invisible. You are worthy, you matter, and you should be seen. There’s nothing awful about you. Yes, you can change this. I think you should try to be more at peace.

I hear you. It can be painful to fear being mocked. It may seem easier to hide. Each of us is different – there’s nothing wrong with taking your time to make friends. Some young people are extroverts with many friends; others are introverts and prefer a small group of people with whom they feel comfortable. Finding your group – your kin or your tribe – is important at your age. Let’s talk about steps to making positive changes in your social life.

1. Consider your resources: Think of people in your life who do recognize you and see your worth. Have you talked about your feelings with parents or other trusted adults? The first step in a conversation can be the toughest. Try asking an adult, “How did you make good friends in high school?” Many teens are surprised to hear adults remember feeling socially lost at your age. Adults can offer support. You’re not alone. Your concerns are important.

2. Reflect: Think of your qualities – you have many. Are you a good listener? Do you play video games? Do you like to read or sing or play sports? Are you into a TV series? Do you draw or journal or blog? How do people know the real you? How do you let people know what’s important to you? When you begin to understand who you are it is easier to figure out who you want to pick as friends.

3. Consider your goals: What types of friends are you seeking? When we’re lonely, we may attach to the first person who pays attention to us. Not everyone will be your best friend. It’s easy to share too much personal information too soon, or come across as clingy. Try talking to one person who seems nice; select just one person first, and see how the conversation goes.

4. Learn the art of talking: It can be very difficult to start a conversation. Small talk is tough for some of us. Practice with a caring adult. Casual conversations about school work, music, activities, movies or homework can break the ice. Listen more than you speak. Everyone needs a “good listening to.” Listen to hear and be genuine.

5. Prepare for drama: Adolescence is a time of shifting relationships. It may appear others are surrounded by supportive friends, but the truth is many teens struggle with social relationships. Try to be kind to yourself. Each day is a new day. Take deep breaths in and out when tense and try not to judge your interactions with others.

6. Bullying is real: You mention your fear of being mocked. Please share any concerns you have feeling safe at school. Adults can offer support. It helps to vent. Once again, you don’t need to face this alone.

Finally, if you live near Washington, I can offer a safe place where you’ll be accepted. Teens at our Common Ground Teen Center will honor and respect you without question. The center is supervised by teens and W&J College students. It is open from 3 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. Every other Friday is usually movie night from 3 to 10:30 p.m., and our Peer Educator meeting is each Wednesday from 5 to 7 p.m. Anyone is welcome, even if not yet trained to teach. The center is located at 92 N. Main St. in Washington. Connect with me first if you wish and I’ll meet you there.

Good luck. This is your life – you’ve got this!

Peer Educator response: Yes, definitely you should figure this out, and you can. You are so important! Your family knows you exist and I’m sure you have some close people in your life. You are only 14 and you have your whole life ahead of you to figure out who you are and where you belong. Don’t worry too much about it. This is another case of you needing our Teen Center. There are many great people there waiting for you. You will make friends with people who will accept you for who and what you are. If you are interested and able to take up a sport or school activity, there’s another great way to meet new people. Always keep in mind that if someone doesn’t like you, it’s not your problem, it’s theirs. You are the only person who will be with you forever. You must make sure you are taken care of and happy.

Have a question? Send it to Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski’s email at podmj@healthyteens.com.

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