Teens need to feel a sense of belonging to feel good about who they are. Those who do not have at least a few close friends often suffer from isolation, insecurity and a poor self-image. Teens gain much of their identity from the people they spend time with, because these people often reflect similar interests and beliefs. Whether peer groups are found in academic or religious circles or within the teen's community, positive groups will help build healthy emotional and psychological development through a strong sense of belonging.
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Teens who find a secure place in a particular group with those who share common interests are more apt to feel a sense of positive belonging, which can influence choices and relationships along the way. According to Education.com, positive self-respect and self-confidence gained from being a part of a group with good values can empower a teen throughout her life. Teens who spend time together and are interested in significant areas of life can inspire others within the group to accomplish important life goals.
Teens who have a sense of belonging to a particular group learn valuable lessons from social interaction within the group. AgWeek.com, in an article, "Teen peer groups can be a positive influence," reveals that teens learn to evaluate themselves based on their peer groups. The members of peer groups essentially act as mirrors, providing important feedback about behavior and personalities to individual group members. Teens who are a part of a group with positive goals and influences can gain confidence in social settings by learning the value of cooperation for the good of the group.
Teens who belong to a positive group -- and share a sense of belonging with group members -- are often better able to resist negative peer pressure from outside sources than are those who are marginalized. These teens often possess a strong sense of self, empowered by others of like mind and interests. In an article, "The importance of teen friendships," BodyandSoul.com.au suggests that parents help teens choose friends or peer groups that have positive influences on them. Parents can help their kids choose positive friends by volunteering in the groups they are involved in and by getting to know their peers. By getting to know your teen's peer groups, you can help her recognize positive characteristics and evaluate which relationships are worth building.
Although it's not always apparent in the typical teen, she needs to feel a deep sense of belonging in her family. A teen’s sense of family is her foundation for belonging, and even though she may spend more time with her friends than at home during the teen years, knowing there is always a place of ultimate acceptance and love gives her confidence. According to Fabulous to Be Female, preteens or teens who do not feel connected at home may look for satisfaction in other places like drugs, alcohol, gang activity and sexual activity. Encourage family belonging in your teen by eating meals together several times each week and planning a family night where everyone is expected to join in. Go out to a restaurant together, have a family movie night or play a board game. Choose activities that encourage communication so your teen will understand her opinions are valued and respected.
Teens who do not feel a sense of belonging from family and friends will pursue intimacy in unhealthy ways. According to Dr. Laura Markham, with "Aha! Parenting," the biggest predictor of how early a teen will become sexually active is how close she is to her parents. Teens crave affection and a sense of belonging, and although she will begin to experiment with relationships outside of her family and closest friends, parents need to remain their child's moral compass. Markham recommends letting children know they can rely on parents emotionally until they are ready to rely on themselves. Do this by giving your teen the opportunity to make some age-appropriate decisions independently of you and support her in the process. Listening, empathizing, and always begin ready to listen will help reaffirm your teen's sense of belonging while building her self-confidence.