I'm shy and scared of making friends in my new school
I had this letter in from a 14 year-old in Canada today.
"Hi I have a question for you. I hope you don't mind.
I just started high school this year. I have been in a really small private school before, and I switched to the public high school this year. I don't know very many people, and I'm really shy. In some of my classes there is no one that I know at all. Most of the time in breaks I am pretending I have somewhere to go or someone to talk to when I really don't. I am very lonely and don't have many friends. I go to a youth group, but only a few of the kids go to that high school. Can you tell me what I can do to make a few friends so I'm not so lonely, and so I can overcome my shyness?"
* * *
My dear, dear lovely girl. Of course I will try to help. There's nothing WORSE than feeling like you are the most lonely person on the planet, and everybody knows everybody else and you're the only one who's suffering. I hardly think there's been a person alive who has never felt like this at some stage, so we all can share your misery.
I have to tell you though that this is a process. It will take time. It will not get better immediately. There will be no magic cures, unless, somehow, like in a movie, someone else new arrives at school and sits next to you in English and you swap notes and suddenly realise you are kindred spirits. In which case, you won't need my help at all. You'll be sorted.
Buuuut, if you can stick with the process and wait out the time, you will have learned skills you can take with you for your whole life, because this will almost definitely not be the last time you'll ever find yourself on the outs and new in a social setting.
How much time? I guesstimate eight months. Can you survive that long? Keep the end goal in mind and think of it just like training for a marathon or practicing for a play or... you fill in the blank. If you do the work, you'll get the part/cross the finish line/whatever.
So. Here's what to do. There are really only two simple steps although I've put a third in as a just in case.
1) Commit to the time and the process. Get yourself a journal and a pen and divide it up into months and weeks. Set goals and keep notes of how well you're doing. Don't be tempted to write negative, depressing things in there about how lonely you are. This is to affirm yourself and tell yourself you're doing a great job. You'll know when you don't need the notebook anymore.
2) Be friendly. I quote my mother here, who quoted her father, who quoted who knows who? (I'll ask him one day if he made it up or if someone said it to him.) "If you want friends, you've got to be friendly."
It largely comes down to three things, and if you can develop and practice these, you'll have the whole thing in the bag. Smiling, confidence and being there.
Smiling. Look. You don't want to do it too much and look like a crazed loon who falls about laughing at jokes that aren't even that funny, but you do want to present a generally friendly face that says, 'hey, I'm interested in being friends'. Go and spend some serious mirror time with yourself. It sounds weird, but give it a practice. Stand up straight, breathe in and smile. How does that feel? Can you carry that kind of feeling around with you through the day, even if you feel the opposite?
Are you a happy person in general? Take *that* to school with you, not the fear. Are you an unhappy person in general? Work out why. Talk to someone about it if you need to. Bottom line - if you turn up with a face that says, 'I'm going to be no fun to hang out with', no one will take the time to get past it.
Confidence. I was once at a family camp where there was a young teens program. I knew one other girl and I was happy to stick with her, but then all of a sudden, this other girl just started hanging out with us, treating us like she'd known us for weeks. I assumed that she must have known my friend from somewhere else. My friend assumed she must have known me from somewhere else. The reality was, she just had enough confidence to hang out with us and assume she was wanted. We became really great friends, and it was all because she was didn't think she could fail.
Confidence takes building. You can't get it in one go. But you can take steps to develop it. You can walk through a corridor pretending you feel completely comfortable. You can use your posture to tell people that you think well of yourself (not in an arrogant way). You can set yourself a goal to simply say 'hi' to two people every day for a week. Once you've been successful at that, you can increase the goal.
This is like any kind of goal setting. You don't set yourself up for failure by attempting things you can't achieve yet. If you do that you just get discouraged and give up. Set yourself goals you think you can manage. Then do them, and then celebrate them.
Being there. If you're hiding in the bathroom, you're never going to find friends. It's a simple matter of cause and effect. People who are not where the friends are, do not get the friends. This doesn't mean you have to hang out with the popular crowd until they suddenly want you. it does mean you have to go looking for where there are opportunities to speak to people. That's all you need. Just the opportunities. Do it often enough and something will develop. (At that point, you need some conversational skills, but that's all in my book about Friendship.)
Maybe the cafeteria or the quadrangle is too hard, with all the loud, buzzing groups of people. But there are bound to be other people sitting on their own. You can always look for a seat at a table where there's not much social interaction going on, smile, have confidence, and try to start a conversation.
Or, even better, join clubs. A reasonable school should have at least a few lunch time groups: choir? chess? something delightfully nerdy that might actually turn out to be pretty cool if you take the time? Or go out for sport. Cross country training is horrible but you might meet some people doing it. Join stuff and do stuff that's already organised and you're over quite a few hurdles already. From there you can have easy conversations about what you're doing which can develop in time.
Being there also means taking the initiative to talk to people and not just waiting for them to talk to you. Pretty much everyone feels the same as you, and if we all waited to be rescued, none of us would ever have friends. Whenever I've moved, I've always gritted my teeth and said, "Okay, here I go. Got to do the work." And it IS work, to always take the initiative to talk to people and start things. But it pays off in the long run. Not everyone will respond, but lots will.
3) If all that is too hard, ask for help. God will help you, for a start, but there's assistance available from other places too. I don't know how it goes in Canada, but in Australia every grade has a 'year advisor' who are happy to help with all sorts of issues kids may have with school. If someone was having trouble finding some friends, the school would advise going to talk to the year advisor as the first port of call. They may be able to introduce you to some friendly kids or advise you as to what's available to do at lunch times.
I sent you a copy of my book on friendship, so give it a read. It's a huge thing, friendship, and it can feel like you're drowning when its hard, but don't despair. There is hope for you, and all the other shy people out there.
Seriously. Let me know what you plan to do, and then how it works out for you. I'd love to know if my advice actually works or if I've totally missed the boat on this.
Stay brave! xxx