I have been a long time believer that a big part of adolescence is playing “dress up” with different identities.
Walking into almost any junior high or high school, you will most likely see many different cliques of kids. If you look even closer within each social group, there will be a distinct role/identity each group member has within that clique that makes it function as a unit.
The question is: How do those distinct roles within a group get decided upon?
I would like to say that most of my observation has been kids finding a sense of belonging, but instead I see kids changing themselves to fit in.
Brene Brown has written, “Belonging is not fitting in. In fact, fitting in is the greatest barrier to belonging. Fitting in, I’ve discovered during the past decade of research, is assessing situations and groups of people, then twisting yourself into a human pretzel in order to get them to let you hang out with them. Belonging is something else entirely—it’s showing up and letting yourself be seen and known as you really are.”
I would argue that the majority of our kids are intensely twisting & changing themselves to fit into a social group.
Why would kids do this? Well, why would anyone do this? If we think about it, we were created for relationship & community, and the reality is that most of our kids are living a lonely, disconnected life. Fitting in vs. belonging is a survival tactic.
Even more interesting is that this generation of teens were practically born with little computers connected to a global community in their hands. Therefore, you might think that our kids would have this instant connection. I’ve found that it’s just the opposite- because it’s not true, face to face interaction and connection, our kids feel more alone than ever.
Often, I see junior high and high school friends behave and make choices that’s not really who they are. It appears as if they are seeking their best chance at success of fitting into a particular group for connection. And, they will continue to behave in a way that gives them the most community, even if it’s risky physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
This makes me want to wrap my arms around them even more and give them a safe place to just be. Life is freaking hard. I continue to remind myself and them of Psalm 139:
1-6 God, investigate my life; get all the facts firsthand. I’m an open book to you; even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking. You know when I leave and when I get back; I’m never out of your sight. You know everything I’m going to say before I start the first sentence. I look behind me and you’re there, then up ahead and you’re there, too— your reassuring presence, coming and going. This is too much, too wonderful— I can’t take it all in!
7-12 Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit? to be out of your sight? If I climb to the sky, you’re there! If I go underground, you’re there! If I flew on morning’s wings to the far western horizon, You’d find me in a minute— you’re already there waiting! Then I said to myself, “Oh, he even sees me in the dark! At night I’m immersed in the light!” It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to you; night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to you.
13-16 Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mother’s womb. I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking! Body and soul, I am marvelously made! I worship in adoration—what a creation! You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body; You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, The days of my life all prepared before I’d even lived one day.
17-22 Your thoughts—how rare, how beautiful! God, I’ll never comprehend them! I couldn’t even begin to count them— any more than I could count the sand of the sea. Oh, let me rise in the morning and live always with you! And please, God, do away with wickedness for good! And you murderers—out of here!— all the men and women who belittle you, God, infatuated with cheap god-imitations. See how I hate those who hate you, God, see how I loathe all this godless arrogance; I hate it with pure, unadulterated hatred. Your enemies are my enemies!
23-24 Investigate my life, O God, find out everything about me; Cross-examine and test me, get a clear picture of what I’m about; See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong— then guide me on the road to eternal life.
I can’t help but want to see kids the way God sees them: shaped by Him, marvelously made, and with a plan and purpose- each and every day. They can try on lots of identities, but they have a truth that lives and breathes underneath the costumes- that they are a child of God.