The Lunch Table

I hear this over and over again from teens:

1. I don’t know where to sit at lunch since____doesn’t want me to sit at her table anymore.

2. When I sit down at the popular table, they stop talking.

3. They invite me to sit with them, but I have nothing to talk to them about. They all play sports together, so they talk about sports. I end up feeling invisible.

4. When I sit at their table, they get up and walk away.

5. Since I don’t have a best friend, I don’t really feel like I fit in at any table.

Yikes! What’s a parent to say when a teen comes home from school with a story like this? As a parent and as a psychologist, I can tell you that our first impulse is to get angry at the kids who are being unkind to our kids. This is a natural feeling to have, but probably not a good one to share with our teens.

I suggest instead:

1. Validate your teens, but don’t become visibly angry. For example, try something like “That must really feel lousy” rather than “Those kids are horrible and not worth thinking about.”

2. Be thoughtful. If you feel that you would like to make a suggestion and your teen is requesting a suggestion, then try something like “Maybe you can try being a “floater” – try out different tables. You don’t need to belong to just one table. Sometimes trying too hard backfires.”

3.Show them that they do have other options. You can suggest to your teens that they focus more on where they would like to sit rather than on sitting with the “populars.” This may give them a sense of some power and control. In fact, they may need to be reminded that, at times, popularity is synonymous with exclusivity.

4. If all else fails, remind them that just as friendships evolve and dissolve, so do seating arrangements!