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.Other teens assume my economic status based on where I live. How should I respond?

16-year-old

Mary Jo’s response: Stereotyping is common but harsh. The tendency to judge others based on superficial things like cars, clothing and residence is wrong. You shouldn’t need to deal with this judgment. You feel hurt and disrespected. Can you change the situation or change your reaction to it?

You are worthy, no matter where you live or your economic status. I realize those words are easier to believe when peers are accepting. You’re still worthy when they’re not.

Your question deals with formulating a response. I’d like to ask you a few questions to help you think.

1. How are you aware of your peers talking about your economic status? Have you overheard them, or are they saying things in front of you? If the comments are rumors or gossip, it might be easier to consider the source, surround yourself with friends who support you, and move forward. If, however, the assumptions are direct, or you feel you’re being socially isolated, you may feel threatened. Either way, you may want to talk about your feelings with a trusted adult.

2. Why do you feel a response is needed? I sense you’d like to show these teens they’re wrong. Do you want to prove you’re financially OK, or do you resent them judging your neighborhood or home? Perhaps both challenges are real to you. How will responding to them make your life less stressful? Will it?

3. If you feel you must respond in some way, please consider how a response could escalate the situation. If these teens are friends, a conversation is important. Go for it. Speak respectfully. If not – and I sense they are simply classmates, not good friends – trying to justify yourself in their eyes could add to stress. In that case, would it be better to ignore it and let it go?

4. Finally, why does their opinion of you matter so much? I grew up in a modest home, but my pride in my parents protected me for a long time. At your age, I was exposed to families of greater means for the first time. I began to worry about how others perceived my outfits, our home, or our family car. I recall talking about it with my parents. I learned wealth is more than things to buy – my family was rich in love and support and empowerment.

How we react to life is a choice. I wish you all good things, and the wisdom to know what matters.

Peer Educator response: Ignore these people as best you can. If you can’t, cut them off. No one has the right to judge your finances. People like that aren’t worth your time.

Q.I have a friend who is just a bit much. Like, this is a great friend, but when we sit together in class, I never get any work done. It’s especially bad in science. I don’t wanna ditch her, but I also don’t want to be around her 24/7. How do I deal with this and still be a kind person?

14-year-old

Mary Jo’s response: Sounds like you’re torn about how to react to a “great friend” who is annoying you.

Have you tried talking it out with her? Find a non-stressful place where you can talk and share how you feel. Start with positives – she’s a great friend, you enjoy spending time with her. Then, gently, discuss how your work suffers when you interact with her in class. Talking about school and your mutual assignments should be easy. Tell her your grades matter to you. Ask her to be respectful of your space when you need to study.

It’s tougher to tell her you’d like to spend less time with her. You have several choices:

1. Say nothing, and continue to spend a lot of time with her and feel annoyed.

2. Look for the good in the friendship and decide if it outweighs the negatives.

3. Gradually cut down time with her.

4. Talk it out as above, adding your desire to spend less time with her but remain friends.

It’s possible you will lose your friendship, and you do describe her as a great friend. Friendships in adolescence are often practice relationships. We’re given a chance to learn how to communicate, to experience compromise, and to remain friends when one person is annoying or “a bit much.” Try to grow from this experience, remain a kind person, and be honest while respectful. Have you thought of her perspective? There may be things you do that are a bit much to her. Give and take helps us create solid friendships. Friendships change. Good luck.

Peer Educator response: Our group was divided on this response. Some people said they would phase out of the friendship. In fact, a few people shared doing just that with friends in the past. Others felt a firm but gentle conversation would clear the air. It’s up to you.

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

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