Being social is much harder for some people than for others. Sometimes, it has a lot more to do with people not wanting to reach out. For Andrew Kirby, a high school sophomore, it had a lot to do with both.
Andrew has a neurological disorder and has needed several surgeries over the course of his life. He also finds it difficult to be social at school. As a result, he usually finds himself eating lunch alone.
While other students chat and socialize, he finds a seat by himself.
Sometimes, his mother texts him to ask if he’s found a lunch companion. The answer is usually no. His mother, Kay Kirby, said it bothers her a lot. She even has taken the matter to prayer, begging God to help him find someone to eat with.
But something changed on the first day of the new school year.
A few student council members noticed Andrew was alone. They decided to ask him to join them.
“If we were sitting by ourselves, we would want someone to sit with us, so we didn’t want kids to have to sit by themselves,” one student said.
For these students, it’s simple: No one wants to be alone, especially not when everyone else is enjoying themselves.
This empathy led them to reach out to Andrew.
“It’s very encouraging to know that there are teenagers out there that took their time. They weren’t being in their own clique, they weren’t being selfish, they took their time to reach out to somebody who might be different. And you know, you never know what a child is going through — maybe they’ve got a bad home life, maybe they’re depressed, and there’s a kid sitting by themselves and they noticed that,” Kay said. “The peace I have now at lunch I don’t feel like I need to text him and check on him.”
The South Carolina teen said he was excited when the members of the student council approached him. The simple act meant a lot more to him than any of them knew.
Now, Andrew and the student council members have become real friends.
They even went to the movies together. It has changed his life significantly.
Kay said Andrew hasn’t had a lot of experience just being invited out by other people his age to do fun activities. But now, his social life is expanding, and he feels valued by his new friends.
As a result, Kay said she no longer worries about him when it comes to lunchtime. Meanwhile, Andrew is still eating with his new group of friends every day.
Andrew is far from alone in his struggles with his social life.
Many teens say they have similar struggles. High school isn’t an easy time for anyone — but it can be especially difficult when teens feel like they don’t have a strong support circle.
It might be a somewhat new concept, but social anxiety is a very real thing. Social anxiety disorder is defined as when a person becomes so anxious at the thought of certain social situations, such as going to a party or meeting new people, that they go out of their way to actively avoid it.
People with social anxiety disorder might be paralyzingly afraid of being judged or making a fool of themselves in front of others. It’s normal to be a little anxious in certain social situations, especially high-pressure ones, like performing or making a speech. However, those with social anxiety disorder become so distressed that it significantly affects their life and social interactions.
It’s a stressful condition.
Many people with social anxiety feel alone or isolated because most others don’t understand their level of anxiety. Others expect people with anxiety to “get over it.” This leads to people feeling stupid, judged, or ashamed because of their anxiety.
People with social anxiety are more anxious than is proper for a certain situation. They often know that their stress levels are out of control or don’t fit with the situation. But they also can’t control them. The stress doesn’t get better with normal stress-relieving tactics, such as meditating, taking a walk, or doing breathing exercises.
It’s also important to remember that a healthy social life means different things for different people.
Some people feel the need to have lots of friends and be constantly busy. Others prefer to be part of a small, tightly knit group of friends. This is true for adults and teens alike.
It’s not helpful to try to force your perspective on someone else, especially if they have social anxiety. That can be a big challenge for parents, who naturally worry about their child’s social needs.
“The key is to avoid judging your child’s need for friendships by comparing them to other teens or even to yourself,” said Irene Levine, a psychologist.
It’s important for socially anxious people to feel like they have a strong level of support from their friends and peers. Even if you don’t understand why someone is as stressed as they are, don’t make judgmental comments, like, “Why can’t you get past this?”
Instead, accept that they are anxious and ask what you can do to make it easier for them. Sometimes, it can be as simple as asking someone to join you for lunch.
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