Our schools contain a mix of families, each one with different habits, practices, and beliefs and with varying levels of spiritual maturity. This gives rise to an unfortunate social problem. Students from homes having high behavior standards are mixing with students who come from homes with different standards and beliefs. Inevitably, the student with the high standards is ostracized for being too strict or too religious. This student then ends up having problems fitting in or belonging to his or her peer group, and, to a young person, this can be very painful.
Often the conflict concerns social media or some other kind of engagement with popular culture. For example, your teenage daughter finds herself surrounded by peers who have smart phones. You believe she does not need a phone at her age, but that decision keeps her from all the activities on Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter that her friends are always talking about. Or, when your daughter gets around her friends, they are always talking about popular songs and film stars your daughter knows nothing about. So she can’t relate; she can’t enter the conversations or talk about what interests her friends. As a result she feels isolated and out of touch at a time in her life where she needs the approval of others, a time when she has a need to belong. In many cases she begins to doubt herself.
Parents can help their children through these kinds of problems in several ways. The first conversation they need to have with their children is the one about not surrendering standards in order to be accepted. Connected to that discussion is the idea that being accepted implies being the same or that being different does not automatically mean one is not accepted. Of course, underlying all this discussion is the question of where true acceptance comes from. Acceptance and love from the Lord and from one’s parents go a long way toward helping a child avoid compromises at school in order to be liked by one’s peers. A student with a healthy self-concept and possessing the virtue of self-acceptance will see right through the shallow rules and flimsy conventions that define acceptance at school and will be unafraid to be different, even radically different. And their peers will respect him for it.
We should remember God’s words to Cain here: “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?” Doing what is right, regardless of the consequences, is the quickest way to acceptance and well-being. The virtue of self-acceptance, or patience with the self, is also the desired goal, and that comes when the student succeeds in an activity for which God designed him to succeed, one in line with “the way he should go.” If the student is rightly directed in this way, he will experience success. That success will breed confidence and the well-being that comes when we are doing what we were made to do.