Friendship (#8)

HOBBIT FRIENDS ON THE TRAIL OF ADVENTURE

“Birds of a feather flock together.”

Adolescents need friends in order to survive like plants need sunshine. We take that for an understood fact without fully understanding why. In her fascinating book The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn out the Way They Do, Judith Rich Harris explains that during the growing up phase we turn from our families as our central focus of identity and see ourselves through the lens of our friends. Our primary identity becomes who we are in the peer group. If our peer group is “the brains” we tend to read more or if we label ourselves as being part of the “stoners” we do everything possible to fit with the expectations of that group. Part of our group identity is biologically determined. Kids who mature physically early, who have good reflexes and strong bodies, and who enjoy competition will be more natural athletes and will identify as “jocks.”. It will be more difficult for kids who don’t have those characteristics to break into the peer group that values those traits. Kids in that group will copy the behavior they see around them and will conform, to one extent or another, to the standards of the group, even if it a negative or anti-social peer group.

When a kid does not have a peer group  he or she is vulnerable. There is no set of expectations that help him or her shape behavior. These kids are more susceptible to bullying; they are more lonesome; their behavior becomes erratic and their identities become confused. Kids without a peer group are not only isolated, they are lost. Like a plant starved for sunshine they become socially stunted because they fail to understand the social cues that are expected of them. It takes years for rejected adolescents to recover and some never do.

The Game Loft is not a solution for every kid but it works for lots of kids. The typical Game Loft kid has a pattern just as the typical athlete has another. Many Game Loft kids are introverted. That doesn’t mean they are quiet (just ask our staff about that) but that they thrive in smaller groups with more time to reflect on their experiences. Game Loft kids tend to live in a world of possibilities. Sometimes teachers find them “day-dreamy” and their peers may think they are out-of-step. They are often very bright and interested in new ideas. They have a respect for knowledge, sometimes spending hundreds of hours learning the complexities of strategy games. Many Loft kids think about how things could be improved like: games, the world, their lives, and other people. Others are more laid-back as long as their beliefs are not attacked, then they become intense. Not every Loft kid fits this pattern but the majority do.

For many kids who come to the Loft this is their first experience with finding others who value their world outlook. We make a huge effort to accept every kid and to value their beliefs. When this happens a formerly isolated kid begins to grow like a plant placed in a sunny window. There is a life-giving element to finding your own group. These kids become stronger and more resilient merely by the fact that they have found a personal identity.

For the next three weeks I will be focusing on stories of kids in our program who have found their peer group and how it has improved their world. As one boy said a decade ago, “I used to think I was weird, now I know I am unique.”

Please consider a donation to The Game Loft. We are a 501(c) 3 tax deductible charity. Your gift will help change the lives of Maine kids.

Patricia Estabrook

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