Story of a Girl

After speaking at a Middle School I was approached by a girl who was in Gr. 8 who stated, "I think I need to make some changes." I'm always excited when I hear a young person say this and I was curious what this change might be.

"Why, what is going on?" I replied.

"Well, I smoke pot and I hang out with a lot of older kids who are into even harder drugs... I think I better quit before things get even worse for me." A very mature and wise decision for a Gr.8 student, I thought. "But..." she said and paused for a moment, trying to put into words something that was preventing her from making this change, "... I don't want to lose my friends."

[Many youth have told me the same thing in one form or another, but maybe none as clearly as this young woman. From this 13 year old to a 5th year high school football jock and everywhere in between, many youth have confided in me a desire for change;. More than once have I heard about a wish to quit or cut down on smoking pot for example, but almost every time they are scared about their friend’s reaction to such a choice.]

I was feeling particularly insightful and helpful on this occasion and offered some advice. “Well, why don’t you find one of your friends, who is a real friend,” I offered, “not just someone who you get high with, but someone you are tight with. You know, your lives have touched each others… anyway, tell that friend about your desire for change and see if they will support you in it.”
She barely took a second and replied flatly, “I don’t have anyone like that.”

This encounter has remained vividly with me since that moment. This girl was willing to risk not being able to change, willing to risk the potential of getting into harder drugs, for people who she did not even define herself as true friends.

The truth of the matter is this. Friendship is in a very desperate situation in our culture. As teens, you are at a time in your life where absolutely nothing is more important than friends, but many, if not most of these relationship are based on surface encounters and superficial similarities. We are so terrified to lose what we have; even if it isn’t true friendship. I could have said to that girl, “If they don’t accept you, they’re not true friends”; easier said than done… when it’s all you’ve got… you don’t want to lose it. And when there isn’t much example out there for what good, loving and caring friendship looks like, it can make us believe that this is all that there is.

We have built so many of our relationships around image that fear of change has become a rational fear. When our friends know us as ‘the partier’, or ‘the pothead’ it will be very scary to attempt to change that image, especially when the people we’re hanging out with really like ‘the partier’ or ‘the pothead’. If we no longer have that image, then who are we? Will they even like the me that isn’t smoking pot or partying? I have seen people well past their teens still struggle to shed these images of themselves, who don’t want to be known that way anymore, but find it difficult not to find fall into the same patterns when the party starts and people are expecting the life of the party.

Friendship will likely be a regular theme in this blog. I don’t know what happened to the Gr. 8 girl I met that day. I can only hope she has met some true rebels along the way who have offered her the type of friendship she’ll need to finally be able to explore who she truly is… and not just who she thinks others want her to be.

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