This story is about a teenage boy who we will call Timmy. I first met when Timmy came to Simply Social Kids with his parents when he was 11 years old. He was quiet and told me that few kids liked him. He was a complicated boy in that there were many aspects of his personality. He started out seemingly shy and quiet but his zaniness came out in full force once he became comfortable. He was uninhibited, had a crazy amount of energy and nearly all of it was positive. Given his extroverted, and often over-the-top interactions, it was easy to see that if he allowed his full personality to show all the time, those qualities might not have been appreciated in some settings. Imagine actor, Jim Carey, at age 11; that was Timmy.
I worked with him to help him understand his value since he had very low self-esteem. He became involved in community service which helped to boost his confidence. He learned how to read the room and use that information to figure out how much of his personality to let show. He also needed to learn that there were outer bounds of his zeal that could be too much for some people. He attended our program weekly, made some new friends and learned enough to leave the program.
But then he entered middle school and the bullying began. He had projectiles thrown at him on the bus. He was not able to control his reactions and his attempts at humor were making things even more challenging.
He returned to Simply Social Kids when he was 14. The effects of the rejection he’d faced socially in that time were obvious. He’d lost so much of his zest. He looked sad and quiet. It took longer to uncover the personality that I already knew was there. But his true self eventually showed up and the other teens in group loved it. He became a favorite among the other guys. He was such an important member of the group that the other teens would watch out the window for his arrival. If he ever missed a group, they would all ask where he was and was he just going to be late. He had found a place where his “live out loud” self was relished. He had found others who valued him.
The other side of Timmy:
Then I had a discussion with Timmy’s dad that stunned me. Timmy’s dad reported that when he asked Tim about his experience in group on the drive home each week, Timmy would say, “Not good” or “I don’t want to come here anymore.” Wait…what?! It didn’t make any sense. He couldn’t hide his enjoyment when he was at Simply Social Kids. He spent his time in social group smiling, laughing, and enjoying not just “acceptance” but a true appreciation and fondness for his zany self. Why was he telling his dad something so far from the truth? Dad said, “We’ll give it 6 weeks but then we’re going to have to stop coming.” Dad had been hopeful but it looked like this wasn’t going to work for Timmy this time around. In my head I was screaming, “But he loves it here! He’s the life of the party. These kids ADORE him!”
I couldn’t imagine why he was telling his dad something that I knew to be false. The laughter and smiles that I saw each week were real. I wondered if he’d been so used to feeling badly that maybe happiness felt foreign to him. Maybe he figured the fun wouldn’t last or that the kids would turn on him like they did in middle school. I truly did not know why he seemed to be self-sabotaging.
I felt terrible that he would leave and not learn the social skills needed for the next phase of his life. I needed to ask him and try to understand why there was such a disconnect from what I witnessed and what he told his dad. I pulled him aside and had a conversation with him, “So your dad tells me that you’re not enjoying your time here at group.” He nodded. “It sure looks like you enjoy yourself when you’re here. I see you smiling and laughing. Am I wrong?” He shook his head. “Did you know that he’s going to withdraw you because he thinks you’re not happy here?” “No, I didn’t know.” he said. I said, “I’d like to understand. Is there something about the group that you don’t like?” He shrugged, “no”. It seemed he had no idea why he was sabotaging this situation. So I told him, “You deserve to be with people who appreciate you for the true you. You deserve to have friends – THESE friends. Did you know that they watch for you out the window when you’re late? They look forward to seeing each week. I can’t promise that none of these kids will hurt your feelings but don’t you think they are worth the risk?” He stared at me unsure of what to do and then he nodded, “Okay. I guess I see your point.” Timmy was a typical teenage boy in that he could get his point across using very few words! On the ride home that evening, Timmy told his dad that he wanted to keep coming to Simply Social Kids. He ended up staying for two more years after that day. He left at age 16 because his skills had greatly improved and he’d made a good group of friends at his high school. He had finally found a group of true friends who made him feel valued.
I thought a lot about why he would self-sabotage and give up something he enjoyed. It’s possible that he had given up on himself or felt that he would not ever have friends, or maybe he didn’t feel worthy of friendship. The teen boys in his group lifted up that self-esteem and showed him that he deserved solid friendships as he was certainly valued by them. I was thrilled that he had given himself a second chance.