Last week our 8th grade class sweatshirts arrived. With a big “15” containing everyone’s name on the back, the shirts are seen as a symbol of class pride and unity. As we headed outside for a class photo, one student looked around at the sea of red and said, “This just feels so cool. Like. . .we all just belong together.”
The desire to belong is a basic human need, but it’s especially strong in adolescence. Teens seek places where they can “belong together,” and it’s critical that they find positive experiences, such as singing in the choir, rather than negative ones, like joining a gang.
Teens who are part of a soccer team, an orchestra, a robotics club, or the cast of a play are less likely to be involved in risky behaviors. Search “positive benefits of extracurricular activities” on the Internet and you’ll find dozens of articles saying students who participate in after-school clubs and teams do better both inside and outside of school.
Of course balance is important, and parents need to be alert for overcommitted kids, but finding a niche where it’s possible to make new friends and share common goals is a must.
By having an identity as part of a group, teens gain a sense of value that can carry over into other areas of their lives. The “uniform” can be a dress shirt and tie, a team T-shirt, or even a class sweatshirt–whatever it takes to mark them as “belonging.”