When Your Teen Is Being Left Out – 10 Tips to Soothe the Sting

Being left out sucks. Here's how to handle it.

by Nancy Reynolds

This post: When Your Teen is Being Left Out – 10 Tips to Soothe the Sting

The first time my daughter was excluded from a gathering with her friends, it broke her heart. She spent the better part of the night in her bedroom wondering what she did wrong and agonizing over how betrayed she felt.

“I just don’t understand it,” she said. “They knew they were all getting together on Friday night and they never said a word. Why would they do that, mom? Why would they be so mean?”

As I sat on the edge of my daughter’s bed watching tears stream down her cheeks, I found myself at a loss for words. I swear, it hurt me as much as it did my daughter. What made it even worse is that later that evening, she saw pictures of her friends on Instagram hanging out having a great time, which only added salt to the wound.

The truth is, being excluded is one of the absolute worst feelings in the world.

Ask any middle-schooler and they’ll tell you – it’s the one thing they fear the most. It’s not necessarily bringing home a bad grade, getting into trouble with a teacher or making their parents angry – it’s being left out, excluded from the crowd or deemed an unwanted outsider. 

Since that awful day with my daughter, there have, unfortunately, been many others just like it. And, through it all, I’ve learned how to handle these situations with a little less emotion (which can be hard) and a lot more grace.

When your teen is being left out, it’s so hard on them and us. Here are a few words of wisdom to help your kids ditch the drama, encourage them to approach the situation with a fresh perspective, and boost their confidence.

When Your Teen is Being Left Out – 10 Tips to Soothe the Sting

 

#1 Don’t Fuel the Situation

Your child already feels bad enough. The last thing they need is for you to make them feel worse by reiterating how crummy it was of their friends to leave them out. What your son or daughter needs now is reassurance and a listening ear. Let them vent about how they feel. Be supportive while resisting the urge to jump in and fuel an already difficult situation. 

#2 Don’t Use the “They’re Just Jealous” Rationale

As a protective mama (or papa) bear, it’s all too easy to rationalize the situation by slapping a “they’re just jealous” sticker on their behavior. Honestly, if I had a penny for every time I heard a mom use this rationale, I’d be a rich woman. Sure, it might boost our kids’ self-esteem a notch and make them feel better in the short term, but it won’t serve them well in the long run. While there may be cases when your teen’s friends are, in fact, jealous, it certainly isn’t the case in every situation.

And, every time we use jealousy as an excuse, we prevent our kids from looking at the situation through a different lens and realizing the role they may have perhaps played in the turnout of events. Ultimately, “they’re just jealous” should never be assumed or used as a crutch to make our kids feel better.

#3 Give Them the Benefit of the Doubt

Rather than jumping to conclusions, teach your kids to give others the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they texted your child earlier that week and the text never went through. Maybe they weren’t invited because they knew your son or daughter typically works on Friday nights so they simply assumed they couldn’t make it.

It’s normal to jump to a worst-case scenario, but it’s not very helpful. Not only does it trigger a lot of anxiety and upset, it also makes it far more difficult to consider reasonable explanations.

#4 Communicate Your Feelings

After your son or daughter gains their composure, have them call one of their closest friends in the group and ask why they weren’t included. Rather than putting their friend on the defensive and saying something like, “You left me out! Why would you do that?” say something like, “Hey listen, I noticed a bunch of you got together last Friday night and didn’t invite me. I really would have liked to go. Is there a reason I wasn’t included?” It’s always better to be honest and talk things out rather than harboring the hurt. Plus, there’s a good chance there’s a reason they may not have considered. 

#5 Understand the Fragility of Teen Friendships

Teenagers (especially girls) have a tendency to have more than a few highs and lows in their friendships. One minute your teen and her friends could be besties, the next they’re vowing never to speak to one another again. Recognizing the overall fragility of teen friendships, avoid saying things you shouldn’t about the person or people who left your child out (after all, those same kids could be hanging out in your kitchen laughing and acting as though nothing happened in a few days) and help your son or daughter realize that this could be an isolated incident that will eventually blow over. 

#6 Think About Signals Your Teen Is Sending

Is your teen always studying? Are they always too busy to get together or notorious for canceling at the last minute?  When your teen is being excluded on a regular basis, it might be time to consider whether their actions are playing a role. How does your teen act when they’re with friends? Are they constantly gossipping or negative? Do they have a tendency to judge others in the group or put others down? Are they painfully shy or always staring at their phone? By having your teen consider how they might be coming across to others, they may be able to identify the reason why they’re being kept off the invite list.

#7 Look for Patterns in the Relationship

If your teen is a good friend and they’re being left out more often than not, it might be time to reconsider those friendships. The bottom line is, not all friendships are meant to last. Tell your teen to try not to take it personally. People change, interests change, life directions change. It doesn’t mean those friends don’t appreciate or care about your son or daughter, it simply might mean they’re forming new friendships with kids who they can relate to at this time in their lives or kids who they have more in common with.

#8 Cast a Wide Social Net

One of the best things parents can do when their teen is being left out is to encourage their child to cast a wide social net.

The more “pockets” of friends your son or daughter has (for instance, through sports or clubs, their job or internship), the less likely they’ll be to hyper-focus or let it get to them when they’re not included in a particular gathering or event. 

#9 Change Your Mindset

There’s a chance our kids may not always get the satisfactory explanation they’re looking for when they’re excluded. Sometimes, they have to accept the harsh reality that they may very well have been left out intentionally.

Rather than agonizing over what they did wrong or how they don’t “measure up” enough to be on the invite list, encourage your son or daughter to focus on what they do have to offer in a friendship. Sure, they’re hurt and even angry, but they’re not the one missing out. Their friends are missing out on a caring, supportive, great friendship and that’s on them… not your son or daughter. 

#10 It’s Okay to Walk Away

Our teens won’t always be included. They won’t always fit in. They won’t always be liked. This is a hard lesson our kids will eventually learn as they navigate their way through to adulthood. But when people who are supposedly our teen’s friends continue to treat them poorly, we need to instill the mindset that it’s okay for them to walk away.

Even if they’ve been friends since kindergarten. Even if they’ve lived next door to one another for over a decade or played football together since elementary school, they need to be reminded that friendships change and evolve. Sometimes, it’s better for them to move on and forge new friendships in which your child is accepted, supported, and included. 

Final Thoughts

Our kids want to fit in and be accepted, so it can feel pretty crummy when people they call friends ignore them or leave them out. But they need to remember this: They are in complete control of who they spend their time with. If someone is treating them poorly or making them question their self-worth in any way, they don’t have to stick around waiting for them to recognize their worth. They can and should move on and find friends who really care and want to be with them, without all the drama and upset. 

If you enjoyed, “When Your Teen is Being Left Out: 10 Tips to Soften the Blow and Rise Above It,” you might also enjoy reading: 

Why It’s So Important to Nurture Your Teen’s Sense of Belonging

Friend or “Frenemy” – 10 Surefire Ways Your Daughter Can Spot the Difference

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17 comments

Michelle Exton November 19, 2021 - 10:32 am

I love raising teens today. Thank you

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Nancy Reynolds November 21, 2021 - 8:31 am

Oh, I do too!! Thank you for your comment! 🙂

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Magali February 20, 2022 - 7:57 am

Thank you so much! My son just lived this experience, it was difficult for us to understand why it happened. I wish I had read this before, but I think I handle it the best I could, but I was so angry, the next morning he was still sad. It’s really difficult to deal with this, in a place where there’s no many options and after the pandemic 😷 he lost touch with many friends and change a lot.

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Kathy Holder February 26, 2022 - 8:35 pm

My teen daughter is being left out by “friends” at school. I would like to be better able to help her cope. I went through the same thing at her age. Girls can be so mean.

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Tanya August 22, 2022 - 9:26 am

My 16 year old daughter is dealing with this.this summer sucked I’m single mom who has to work,when I come home she’s in tears because she says she has no friends no one even calls her the ones she used to be friends with,it makes me so sad

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Nancy Reynolds August 23, 2022 - 5:09 am

I’m so sorry to hear that. The best thing you can do for your daughter is to get her involved in activities with other like-minded girls. Cast a wide social net so she has other pockets of friends to turn to should one or two girls (or even a group of girls) exclude her. Also, strive to build her confidence as much as possible. The more worthy she feels, the less likely she’ll allow circumstances like this to pull her down. Above all, love her and keep the lines of communication open. Being left out really stinks regardless of your age, but it’s particularly hard on kids/teens.

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Nancy Reynolds October 18, 2022 - 9:16 am

Oh, it’s SO hard to watch our kids get through it. You’re so smart to help your daughter branch out with other activities. The more “pockets” of friends she has, the less she’ll feel the sting of being left out of one – she’ll have others to fall back on. Middle school is such a tumultuous time socially for kids. What your daughter is going through is so typical. She WILL get through it, mom, likely stronger than ever. Tell her to steer clear of drama and gossip and continue to be her wonderful self.

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Jen November 1, 2022 - 1:23 pm

I have a 16-year old son that is constantly left out of things from a group of boy he thinks are his “friends”. I spent the better half of his sophomore year worrying about it, hoping it would get better but seems to be the same story now in his Junior year. I’ve talked to the guidance counselor who in turn has talked to him gently encouraging him to join clubs, sports etc. I have suggested to cast an open net, different friends etc. He seems fixated on this particular group and fitting in with them. They invite him to big parties but not small intimate gatherings. I have seen my son become more introverted and shy and can’t help to think it’s because he does not feel fully accepted by this group. I know I have no control (which is hard) and I don’t know what else I can do other than let him go through this journey and figure it out. But it breaks my heart 🙁

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Nancy Reynolds November 7, 2022 - 8:55 am

Honestly, it’s the most difficult thing in the world for a parent – to see their child struggle and feel powerless to help. It sounds as though you’re doing everything you can to encourage your son to cast a wider net socially. He’s becoming more introverted and shy because his self-esteem is taking a hit. If he’s not interested in joining clubs or sports to meet other boys his age, then work on ways to build his own personal self-esteem. Empower him by letting him learn something he’s always wanted to learn or doing something he’s always wanted to do. (We enrolled my son in a pilot’s training program – he’s a full-blown pilot today – and his self-confidence skyrocketed.) Instead of him feeling awful about being left out and feeling low because he’s not being included, help him redirect his efforts toward something that really matters to him. Remember, SO many kids go through this. Sadly, it’s a journey they take that eventually makes them stronger. It’s just so darn hard as moms to stand on the sidelines. Hang in there, mom. xo

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Sarah Bishop November 3, 2022 - 10:50 am

“By having your teen consider how they might be coming across to others, they may be able to identify the reason why they’re being kept off the invite list.” Please tell me exactly HOW you get them to look at how they might come across to others – how do you do that without insinuating they are to blame ?

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Nancy Reynolds November 3, 2022 - 12:24 pm

It’s more about having your teen ponder the question, “Is it possible I am coming across to others in such a way that they choose not to be around me or include me?” rather than asking your teen that question which will likely put them on the defensive. I know when my daughter was left out, I asked her “Can you think of any reason why they might be acting this way? Perhaps anything you’ve inadvertantly said or done?” Soften it up by getting your teen to ponder and reflect on their own behavior rather than accusing. I hope that helps! xo

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Lara Fastman November 3, 2022 - 11:32 am

Great article!

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Gina November 6, 2022 - 12:28 pm

This happens to younger kids too! Some if the parents are as bad if not worse than the kids.

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Susan January 15, 2023 - 1:31 pm

Hello, thanks for the article. I have three kids, boy- 23 , girl 19 and a girl 15. My D who is a sophomore struggled during the pandemic with a friendship, developed an eating condition and is now on the other side. She had a rough time in 8th grade while at home. She has since found a group of girls to be friends with at high school. She is sweet, quiet and spends much time alone. She came to me today asking why she does not have a close friend to hang out with, why she is not asked to spend time with one or two friends and her ideas to hang with the group are not taken up by them. She is invited to all their birtday parties, talks to them at school and on texts. But, she feels like she is not able to get closer with any of them despite trying. She has tried initiating activities but it does not go anywhere. She is in club soccer and runs with the cross country team. She knows she is valued and loves herself as we talk often about this, but it is hard to see her feel down and with out a close friend to be with at this point. Any thoughts? Thanks for reading as it is hard to see her in this place when she has worked so hard to manage her eating condition and face her social concerns.
S H

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Nancy Reynolds January 15, 2023 - 7:27 pm

First of all, your daughter sounds lovely… sweet, kind, gentle, and inclusive. EVERYTHING someone would be so blessed to have in a friend. Honestly, I think your daughter just needs to continue doing what she’s doing. By putting herself out there, getting to know other girls, joining clubs and/or sports, getting to know girls in her classes, etc., eventually, she’ll find friends (or even one good friend) who will love and appreciate her for who she is. I certainly wouldn’t take it personally (although I know that’s difficult). But you can’t MAKE others like you and it’s exhausting to try. Give your girl a big hug and tell her to keep working on being the best SHE can be. True friends are hard to come by as many middle and high school girls have realized (my daughters included). She’ll find her tribe eventually… Much love, Nancy

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Jeanette November 29, 2023 - 2:52 am

My 15yo son is very smart, quite introverted, and a self-proclaimed loner. No one is picking on him, and he is friendly and kind when he needs to be. But he would honestly prefer to be left out. He hates saying no to invitations, but he hates going to events even more. He seems happy and pursues many interests, but by himself. He has absolutely no interest in dating and thinks girls are the most annoying creatures on earth. He deliberately avoids and ignores them. He seems like he knows himself well and is happy. Should I even worry about him?

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Nancy Reynolds December 1, 2023 - 6:08 am

I’ve had so many conversations with parents whose son or daughter is the exact same way. I’m a big believer in loving our kids as they are. As long as your son is happy, involved in life (even if he IS doing his own thing), doesn’t seem to be struggling with any mental health issues or depression and is overall doing great, I say, let him just be who he is. I’ve also learned through my own kids and literally hundreds of conversations with other parents that our kids are a work in progress. Your son might surprise you in the next year or two… he likely will become interested in dating and he might just take more of an interest in being around people and crowds and groups of people. Who he is today is not who he’ll be in the next couple of years — he’s most certainly evolving into the person he’ll one day become. My son used to LOVE spending time alone in his room (too much, actually, for my comfort), but he’s in college now and very involved in life with tons of friends. Love him, support him and encourage him when and where you can to get involved – he’ll jump in when he’s ready. Just my two cents, mom! xo

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