New School, New Friends

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Dear Expert,

When I went from middle school to high school, I switched schools. It’s already five months in and I still feel like I don’t have real friends. All of these kids have known each other since they were little and I’m new… How can I make real friends and join a group?

— Age 14

Starting a new school at any age is difficult but transitioning to a new high school is even harder. Navigating new schedules, classes, teachers and expectations is tough enough but figuring out the social etiquette and making new friends can leave your head spinning. When you walk through the door on the first day of school, you will probably feel self conscious and awkward; classes might feel hard, teachers might be mean and getting through lunch with all the dynamics will make you want to run screaming in the other direction.

Like all adjustments, you’ve got to give this time. It’s hard to be patient when you feel lonely, but right from the start you can ease the pain by paying attention to your body language and the signals that it sends to others. Without realizing it, when we are nervous or anxious, our bodies and faces tend to close; we scowl and cross our arms reflexively as a way to feel safe and protected. Instead, work on staying open – keep an open, friendly face even when you feel like crying; this gives a visual cue to people that you are friendly, approachable and available for conversation.

Speaking of conversations, pay attention to conversations around you and join in or better yet, try starting some – talk to your neighbor in English class or the kid in front of you on the lunch line. Find an ice breaker that works for you and use it, even if you feel shy. It takes practice and patience but you will find yourself becoming more and more comfortable with the kids around you. Join after school clubs, groups or sports teams where you will meet other students that share your interests. When people have things in common, they tend to bond around them.

Lastly, remember that friendships come from the accumulation of experiences; think about how many years you’ve had with your old friends and how much of friendship is made up of shared memories. But all this takes time, so during the first six months of freshman year expect that your social interactions might feel superficial and ungratifying and be prepared for that. By Sophomore year you will have settled in and will be making memories of your own with your new group of friends.

Aly Mandel


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