I hated being the new kid in school, yet there I was, new for the third time in less than a year.
I dreaded going to my seventh-grade class that first day. Who would talk to me? Would I be able to find my locker, and if I could, would I remember the combination? Would the other kids in P.E. make fun of my skinny white legs? What subjects were they studying? Who would I eat lunch with? Who would I walk home with?
I was scared to death.
That morning, I invented all kinds of excuses to get Mom to let me stay home from school for one more day.
“C’mon, Mom, I don’t even know where the school is. What if I get lost on the way and you never see me again?”
That didn’t faze her.
“Besides, I think I might have the flu. You don’t want to embarrass me by making me go to school sick, do you? I’ll probably throw up right in the middle of English class, and for the rest of my life, all the kids at school will remember me as the kid who threw up in Miss Van Horn’s class.”
That got a smile out of her, but she still didn’t give in. She handed me my lunch, wished me a good day, and pushed me out the door.
The first day wasn’t so bad. I found the school, I didn’t throw up, and my teachers didn’t ask me any questions I couldn’t answer. And I even made a friend. At least, I thought I had.
Craig, a popular kid in my homeroom, befriended me. He helped me find my classes, ate lunch with me, introduced me to some of his friends, and even asked me to stick around after school to shoot some baskets.
I figured Craig and I were going to be great friends, so I hung around him all the time. But one day in the second week at my new school, some of his friends pulled me aside at lunch and said, “Hey, why do you keep hanging around Craig?”
“Cause we’re friends,” I answered.
They laughed. “Friends?” smirked one. “He hates you hanging around him all the time at school. Why don’t you just leave him alone?”
Their words stunned me, and I struggled to keep a smile on my face as they walked away laughing. I decided, then and there, I’d stay away from Craig. If he wanted to be my friend, I’d welcome him, but I wasn’t going to be pushy.
Everyone wants to be liked and to have friends, but some people are so desperate to make friends that they’ll do almost anything. My shadowing Craig, for example, was out of character for me, but at the time I really needed a friend and I didn’t have the confidence that I would make friends by being my normal self.
As a high school teacher, I’ve seen students completely change themselves in hopes of winning friends.
Lora, a sophomore, was new in my school, and she had everything going for her. She was pretty, smart, athletic, and personable. Unfortunately, it was her first experience in a new school, and she had difficulty adjusting. She had never known what it was like to be new, to be a stranger, to be without friends.
In her desperation to make friends, Lora latched onto the first kids who showed an interest in her. Those kids were, in my estimation, less than desirable. They lived for the weekends when they could “party hardy.”
They welcomed Lora with open arms, and so she was sharing the shallow existence of those whose only happiness is found in alcohol, drugs, or immorality. Lora continued to be pleasant and active in my class, but she had changed. Her sparkling countenance was gone, and her academic motivation was fading.
It’s important to have friends, but friends and popularity aren’t worth self-destruction. One Church leader said it well when he advised youth to, “Seek not to be well known; seek, instead, to be worth knowing.”
It’s not difficult to get to know people if you involve yourself in school activities, talk to people, and act friendly. But sometimes the hard part comes in making real friends out of people you get to know. If, however, you’re “worth knowing,” you’ll have little trouble turning acquaintances into friends.
So then, how can you be worth knowing?
First, be interested in others. Martin H. Durrant, my former bishop and stake president, lifts my spirit every time I meet him. He always asks me about myself, my family, my job, or my hobby. His questions are sincere, and I know, without a doubt, that he’s genuinely interested.
But it’s not always easy to talk about other people’s interests. For example, a friend and I were finishing graduate school at about the same time. Every time we met he’d tell me in great detail about his research project and how it was going. In all the time we were working together, he never once asked me about my work and study. He didn’t seem like a real friend because he didn’t seem interested in what I was doing.
Once you learn to talk to others about their interests, practice being cheerful. Having a smile on your face forces you to be in a good mood. No one enjoys being around a grump or someone who looks like they’re carrying the world’s problems on their shoulders.
In addition to being cheerful, it’s also important to be a good listener. Sometimes when my wife has a problem or is struggling with a decision, she’ll talk to me about it. My first impulse is to stop listening, tell her what I would do, and advise her to do likewise.
It took me a while to learn that she didn’t want my advice; she wanted my willing ear. The next time a friend tells you about a problem, bite your tongue the minute you’re tempted to dispense advice. Let them say all they have to say; then give advice only if they ask for it.
And, finally, be a good influence on others. When I was a sophomore in high school, some of my friends started drinking and smoking. They knew I didn’t drink or smoke, but they began to pressure me to join their parties anyway. The more they pressured me, the more uncomfortable I felt, until finally I stopped hanging around them. I figured that if they were really my friends, they wouldn’t push me to do things I didn’t want to do. Real friends would never ask you to do something you shouldn’t.
Really, this friendly advice is basically what you’d do if you followed the Savior’s advice to “love one another.” If you really work at loving those around you, and show that love, you’ll be the kind of friend everybody wants.
It’s never easy being the new kid on the block, and making friends and breaking into social groups can be tough. Here are a few ideas you might want to consider.
Give yourself some time. If you’ve just moved to a new town, or changed to a new school, it will take a while to establish friendships. Don’t worry if you have to spend some time alone for the first few months. Take advantage of this time by participating in family activities, developing your talents, and learning about your new surroundings.
Don’t be afraid to make the first move. You can’t always wait for people to introduce themselves to you. Remember, they might be as apprehensive approaching the “new” person as you are talking to them.
Stay away from people who drag you down. If your friends force you to choose between them and doing what you know is right, it’s time to look for new friends. Pray for guidance when you are making new friends, and make a commitment to yourself to maintain your integrity.
Get involved. In addition to getting to know the kids in your ward or branch through Mutual activities, try joining a club at school, going out for a sports team, volunteering to decorate for a dance, or trying out for a play. These types of activities often involve teamwork, so it’s a good way to really get to know people who share your interests.
Be worth knowing. Think about the kind of person you would like to be friends with. Write down some of the qualities that person would have, and then work to cultivate those traits in yourself.