The teenage years are the most difficult. The kids are growing up - they're discovering the world is not as rosy as pictured in the story books and the web slinging spiderman doesn't jump off skyscraper roofs to help damsels in distress or save the world from the latest super thug. They learn with a violent force of the hypocritical world around them. The tensions are great, the problems many and answers few. There is a clash of values. And they feel lost, bewildered, lonely.
The teenage years are classified by experts in human development as the "social" age. It's that time when young people learn how to get along with others - first those of their own gender, then members of the opposite sex.
But some kids don't easily mix with others. Somehow, they haven't learnt how to fit in with their age group. Or they're terribly self-conscious about their appearance or abilities.
In this article, let's talk about loneliness. If I've been describing you, try putting into practice the following suggestions for combating loneliness.
Know When Loneliness Occurs
Some young people felt loved and accepted as children but are encountering much more difficulty in their teenage years. The reason is that they are finding themselves and declaring their own independence. They consider they no longer need the advice and preaching of those around.
Meanwhile, even though you're sure you can make it in life, Mum and Dad don't seem to agree. They want to supervise your every decision. They're ready to pass judgement, or they seem to be treating you like a little child. You feel frustrated.
So, you feel like you don't belong anywhere. You're floating in limbo, somewhere between acceptance and rejection. No one seems to understand you. You're just shut out of everyone else's world. This is one kind of loneliness.
Other young people may be lonely because something has happened to make them feel unwanted and alone. A major cause of this in our society is divorce. If Mum and Dad split up, the teenager is caught in the middle. He may even blame himself. The moorings of his life have been cut away; setting him adrift. He can't understand his feelings, so he withdraws into himself. All the other teenagers seem happy and accepted. They can't relate to his sorrow and disappointment. So he's alone.
Shyness can also create a sense of loneliness. So can a feeling of being clumsy, ugly, thick headed and unpopular. A broken relationship, such as a best friend moving away, or being rejected by a boy or girl you especially like, can result in a very lonely feeling.
So can a parental move. A 15-year-old new boy started in my secondary school at mid-term. The boy adjusted poorly to being forced to leave his childhood friends and classmates. Soon he gravitated towards other lonely classmates - the majority of whose behaviour was unacceptable. His general behaviour also deteriorated with the end result of his flunking his finals. It was a traumatic time in his life, and I don't think he has still recovered.
Try to figure out why you feel lonely. Talk to or write to someone who can help you think it through. The more accurately you can pinpoint the reason, the better you'll be able to deal with it.
Take Positive Action
Let me now suggest several positive steps to overcome loneliness. First, force yourself to be with people. If you stay away from people because you don't know how to act or what to say, you can't overcome that obstacle. You can join special speech and etiquette classes.
You might program into your life some activity that will help you learn to be comfortable with people. Some kids grow by leaps and bounds by taking a paper round. Others do Saturday morning jobs, teach a Bal Mandal class or help in the mandir during weekends.
This introduces us to a very important aspect of our life. The mandir and us. The mandir is a vast arena, where kids of all types, backgrounds, interests and levels of intelligence get together on a common platform. There you will find your true friends in life. Try and attend the meets and discourses regularly. The mandir is a stage for many many activities. You can join the music classes, study circles, library, take part in the Indian Cultural dances, the sponsored runs, camping trips, picnics, or help out in the kitchen if you fancy yourself as a gourmet, explore your artistic talents by helping with decorations and stage preparations for festival days, give speeches, participate in debates, run a Bal Mandal, join the various sports clubs, learn your mother tongue, Gujarati, fluently. There is a host of activities you can plunge yourself into. You cannot help but make friends and win their respect.
A word of caution. Don't begin to make friends at the expense of your own morals or values. Your loneliness could drive you to seek out kids who are not accepted by the main group because they smoke pot, use alcohol, talk dirty, or shoplift. In this case, it's better to be a loner for a little while longer than to make a friendship that could threaten your spiritual life or your future happiness.
You can also turn this period of loneliness to your advantage in other ways. For instance, it gives you a chance to take stock of yourself. You can learn about your likes and dislikes your fears, and your goals. Sometimes it's good to stop and get to know yourself again.
It's a good time to grow spiritually as well. When your life is not filled with a whirl of activities and friends, you have a chance to improve your relationship with God and His Sadhu - Pramukh Swami Maharaj. You have time to read our scriptures and think about them. You have opportunities for prayer.
When we really ponder deeply, it becomes obvious, that, in life our only real friends, ones who would never desert us are God and His holy Sadhu. Swami Gunatitanand tells us, "God cares. God protects. He is our Father." A true father is a true friend. He understands our feelings, difficulties and drawbacks. Swami Gunatitanand further says, "The holy Sadhu is likened to God. Like God, he knows all and everything. In the love of a true Sadhu our soul is satisfied." What more could a person ask for.
Many a time we feel that we love God. But here Pramukh Swami guides us, "One who loves God is loved a thousandfold by Him. And to one who takes one step towards God, He takes a thousand steps." So let's keep friendship in its true perspective.
Everyone has times of feeling lonely - times when it seems that nobody understands or cares. But I assure you, these days will pass. Soon life will be filled with friends. So, learn to be optimistic about yourself. Don't let your loneliness make you depressed or bitter.
Perhaps, while you're reading this chapter you've never known a lonely moment in your life. But the chances are that you know someone who is. You can make a good friend by helping him. I don't mean you have to be his best friend. But show him some interest and kindness. Help him become part of the group. He'll probably find someone else he can befriend, and you'll have helped him overcome his battle with loneliness.
If you're a lonely young person, here's what you can do:
· Learn how to feel at home with people.
· Find someone like you to befriend.
· Teach yourself to do something really well.
· Put yourself in situation where there are people around you.