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. It’s only been a week and I’m already sick of school.

My mom and me moved this summer so I started eighth grade in a new district where I don’t know a single person. It wasn’t like I had so many friends in my old school. Up until third grade I did, but since then my group of friends just got smaller. Now there’s no one. I feel like everyone stares at me. At the same time I feel invisible.

How can it be that I feel both things at once? I like the class stuff in school, it’s the social stuff that makes me want to throw up. Any help with making new friends?

– 13-year-old

Mary Jo’s response: No one should feel invisible. You’re facing a tough challenge, and I’m glad you wrote for support quickly. Waiting and keeping your feelings inside might make you feel more alone.

Yes, it’s very possible to feel isolated and observed at the same time. It’s also very possible you are being watched. New students often feel on display. On the other hand, since you don’t confide in or hang out with any group of people yet, you feel as if no one really sees you. I hope it helps to know how many others felt this way before you. I’ve asked hundreds of adults if they’d return to middle school; I receive a resounding “No” from all – it seems like a tough time in life.

Making friends will help. Our peer educators identified with you right away. Their thoughts are below. I sought their wisdom because they’re closer to your experience. One young person, a senior, shared her lunch room challenges this year. She doesn’t have classes with anyone else in her lunch period, and was late for lunch on the first day of school. All seats at all tables were taken; it’s only been a week, but for now, she’s eating lunch alone. Life will often place us in positions of isolation. One day you may be the new person at a college or at a new job or in the service. How we handle these challenges helps us develop our courage. In time, we can rise above our feelings to think of others. You’re not the only isolated person in your school.

Here are some hints for making new friends:

1. Be you. The wall by our Teen Center meeting space holds this saying: Be Yourself: Everyone Else is Taken. New friends should know the real you.

2. Breathe. Take deep, slow breaths to center yourself before you enter school in the morning, the lunch room, or a new classroom space. Your body is amazing. You can ease your own anxiety just through your breathing!

3. Think of others and respect them. Notice people who seem isolated. Not everyone is surrounded by friends. Take a moment to be other-directed. Help someone out. Offer to carry books or help with assignments.

4. Smile. Take the time to smile and show kindness to others. A smile will make you seem approachable.

5. Ask questions about others. People like those who listen. Ask a question to new people that draws attention to them. Introduce yourself and ask, “Have you always gone to this school?” Give a sincere compliment, “You seem really good at math. I like it too.” Try starting a conversation. If it falters, remember you can start another with someone else.

6. Dress with confidence. It may sound simple, but feeling good about how we look can give us courage.

7. Join activities. Your school has many clubs. Check out what interests you. Volunteering to be part of a group provides connection. You don’t need a hundred friends; sharing common interests will help you find a few others like you and your friendships will grow.

8. Remind yourself you’re worthy. You are a person of worth. Think about your many good qualities. Visualize your success. Find one good thing about every day.

9. Stay connected with trusted adults. Talk with your mom and share your feelings. She’s on your side. Study hard. Teachers will notice when you’re engaged in class. Being noticed can lead to in-school opportunities.

10. Come to our Common Ground Teen Center. It’s at 92 N. Main St. in Washington and is open from 3 to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. All 13- to 18-year-olds are welcome. I promise you’ll be treated with respect.

Above all, please don’t give up. Take school one period at a time. You’ve got this.

Peer Educator response: We know exactly how you feel. Here are our thoughts:

You’re not the only person feeling this way. Don’t suffer in silence. You reached out to Mary Jo – keep reaching out to others. Some of us still feel excluded as 11th and 12th graders once in a while. It’s part of life. Get involved. Join activities. Try to enjoy school. Remind yourself you’re OK. Don’t give your power to someone else. It doesn’t really matter what others think of us. We need to be who we are and be strong enough to be that person as we grow. Yes, other kids can be intimidating, but find others who feel alone like you and make a group of friends. Remember, this isn’t forever. There is life after middle school!

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

See what people are talking about at The Community Table!

Thank you for reading!

Please log in, or sign up for a new account and purchase a subscription to read or post comments.