In seven years of reporting from American middle and high schools, I’ve seen repeatedly that the differences that cause a student to be excluded in high school are often the same traits or skills that will serve him or her well after graduation.
Taylor Swift’s classmates left the lunch table as soon as she sat down because they disdained her taste for country music. Last year, the Grammy winner was the nation’s top-selling recording artist.
Students mocked Tim Gunn’s love of making things; now he is a fashion icon with the recognizable catchphrase “Make it work.”
J.K. Rowling, author of the bestselling “Harry Potter” series, has described herself as a bullied child “who lived mostly in books and daydreams.” It’s no wonder she went on to write books populated with kids she describes as “outcasts and comfortable with being so.”
For many teenagers, “the worst thing in the world is to be different from other people; that’s what makes someone unpopular.”
In the rabidly conformist school environment, the qualities that make people different make them targets.
In adulthood, however, the qualities that make people different make them compelling.
It’s hard to know when you’re in high school that “the smart thing” is likely to translate into later success, or that “the girl thing” is bound to improve. That’s why it’s up to adults to convey constantly to teenagers that the characteristics that marginalize them can pay off after graduation.
Geeks profit from their technological knowhow.
Emos benefit from being empathetic and unafraid to display emotion.
Skaters, punks and others who pursue their arts with fervor benefit from the creativity they’ve honed.
Gamers have learned both problem-solving skills and the ability to collaborate through collective intelligence.
So what happens to high school’s popular students? Research shows that they are more likely than outsiders to conform, which can also mean they’re less likely to innovate. They are more likely to be both targets and instigators of aggression — whether physical or relational, which includes rumors, gossip and backstabbing. They are more likely to drink and engage in other risky behaviors. Students who are popular and involved in aggression are less likely to do well in school. Psychologists point out that high-status cliques teach the exclusionary behavior that may be the foundation for eventual racism, anti-Semitism, sexism and other forms of bigotry.
That’s not to say, of course, that popularity in high school necessarily leads to mediocrity or worse in adulthood.
But neither is there necessarily something wrong with a student merely because he is excluded by classmates.
The worst aspect of the treatment of student outsiders isn’t the name-calling.
It isn’t the loneliness.
It isn’t even the demise of attitudes and programs that are important for fostering creativity and independence.
The most heartbreaking consequence of this treatment is that tens of thousands of students — imaginative, interesting, impressionable people — think that they have done or felt something wrong.
It’s not enough to merely tell them that in the real world, “it gets better.”
They need to know before graduation that being different is not a problem but a strength.
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About The Movement:
My name is Daniell, and I am the creator of the Internal Acceptance Movement (I. A.M.)
Need support? Have a question?
The Internal Acceptance Movement is an online space that advocates self-acceptance, healthy body image, recovery from self-destructive behaviors and addictions, and the acceptance of all people, regardless of what they look like, who they identify as, what they have been through, and where they come from. I. A.M. is a space that offers support to those battling their inner demons and strength to continue fighting when all hope seems to be gone.
I. A.M. represents the idea that as human beings, we aren't defined by anything external, such as our weight, appearance, body shape, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, clothing choices, income, occupation, or background. But that instead, it's our internal qualities--our character and attitude, our passions and dreams, our soul and spirit, our heart and capacity to love, our goals and morals, and the way in which we treat others--that are truly self defining.
Whether you're battling an eating disorder, self-harm, alcoholism, drug addiction, depression, PTSD, low self-esteem, anxiety, self-hating thoughts, poor body image, or any other mental health condition or self-destructive behavior, I. A.M. exists to remind you that you are NOT alone in how you feel or what you're going through; that it's okay to not be okay, and that you don't have to face this pain alone; that things can and will get better; that healing and recovery are possible; that there is nothing wrong with who you are; the who you are is enough; and that you are deserving of happiness, love, and acceptance, always.
I'm here if you need me: whether it's support, someone to vent to, a question, or you just want to say hi--know that this is a safe place and that you aren't alone. If I don't respond immediately, know that I'm not ignoring you. I will message you back at my earliest convenience. If you have an emergency or feel that you want to hurt yourself, please, please call 911. I'm not a therapist or a mental health professional of any kind. If you're in danger, you need to ask for help from people who can adequately support you. Sending you love: Daniell