Many teenagers I work with feel hurt or sad about being excluded from friendship groups. Usually one or more of their “friends” has done or said something to leave them feeling left out or not accepted. This could be someone avoiding eye contact, ignoring them in conversation, not asking them to an event/gathering or not responding to invitations/communication. This kind of exclusion can be mild (e.g. over the short term by one person only) or severe (long term and done by many).

There are some tricky issues about exclusion. First, many teens find it hard to adm

it that it has happened. It is hard for adults to admit they would like to be more “liked” by someone, let alone for an adolescent for whom social life is usually much more important. Instead of admitting to feeling hurt per se, teens will often talk about being annoyed or frustrated with someone. At home, they often will act in an irritable or aggressive way rather than in a sad way. Sometimes, it is only after specific and repeated questioning that details of feeling excluded or left out emerge.

Another tricky issue is trying to determine when excluding someone becomes bullying. Obviously teenagers must be allowed to choose their own friends and shouldn’t be forced to be friends with any particular person. However, it is reasonable to expect teenagers to be kind to others and this means avoiding excluding people in obvious or repeated ways. It is not easy to decide what behaviours teens “choosing their own friends” and what are bullying behaviours.

Yet another problem with exclusion is that it is often well hidden from adults. Given that we don’t often know the kinds of friendship behaviour that is normal for a particular group of teenagers, it is easy for teens to ensure we don’t know when exclusion is occurring. For example, unless we know that 99% of teens in a given year level are facebook friends with a particular person, we won’t know that this same person refusing to be facebook friends with our daughter is particularly hurtful for her.

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