My son has been drowning in the social swamp of junior high. Today he was finally able to put words to the fact that he doesn’t feel like anyone at the school is like him, that he has nothing in common with any of them. I know for a fact this is not true. That school is full of geeky boys who love video games and would be happy to be friends with my son. The trouble is that my son can’t pick them out of the overwhelming crowd. Even when he does admit that there is this one kid in his History class who he likes being around, my son’s anxiety stops him from asking “Do you like to play video games?” My son is terrified the other boy will say no. He’d rather not know that risk asking.
I sat there with my son in silence, finally recognizing the scope of the problem my son has with making friends. His anxiety makes him incapable of reaching out, asking the simple social questions that foster connections. Instead he has to wait until he’s around someone enough that they become familiar to him. Then he has to wait until there is a conversation he feels comfortable joining. Even then he often shuts down, retreats inward, is unable to speak. He needs potential friends to come to him, repeatedly, even if he retreats from them. Only they have to approach him without alarming him. All of which is really hard to expect in the social milieu of a junior high.
So I shrunk the problem smaller. What thing could we do to help my son have a conversation about video games with the one kid who might become a friend? I realized my son needs props. He needs simple conversation starters. He needs signifiers of what his interests are so that people who are also interested in those things will approach him. My son needed geeky t shirts.
I’d never before recognized the real social value of geeky clothes. They are the tool by which introverted people signal their tribe. The Zelda Triforce symbol says worlds to another Zelda fan, but probably goes unnoticed by those who don’t love Zelda. And if two folks wearing Zelda shirts meet, they already have a topic of conversation to start on. They can discuss the various Zelda games, characters in those games, which ones they like best, and on and on. From there it is easy to compare thoughts on other games, and then maybe agree to get together and play games sometime.
My son has had a smattering of geeky clothes over the years, but he’s grown a lot in the last eight months. He’s grown out of them, worn them out, or they represent things he used to love and doesn’t love as much now. He needed up-to-date clothes that represent who he is right now. He needs shirts that will make other geeks laugh. So I dropped a pile of money on t shirts today. They’re important.