I was recently working with the parents of a 13-year-old girl who described their daughter as a ‘fringe dweller’ and I was immediately struck by the term, I’d even go so far as to say I felt it a very accurate description of myself so I feel I know a little about fringe dwellers.
Over the years I have worked with many children and young adults who could be described as fringe dwellers by others for any number of reasons but the key characteristic is that they are individuals who don’t run with the pack either because they don’t want to or because the pack won’t have them, so we have fringe dwellers who inhabit the margins because they choose it and we have others who are sadly hanging about in the fringes wishing they knew how to be in the thick of it. Whether it matters or not depends on which of the two categories a child falls into – the self elected FD all the outcast FD.
What is noticeable about all fringe dwelling children is that they probably lack the social skills to mix easily and well with their peers but some feel themselves inadequate because of this and others think the peer group behaves in a ridiculous and pointless way-although both probably find the behaviour of their peers quite mystifying at times particularly their obsessions and rituals.
One of the hardest things about growing up is the conflict between wanting to fit in and wanting to be seen as an individual and this conflict still exists in the fringe dwelling teen but many will have already given up the desire to fit in because they have learnt that to do so they may have to sacrifice some of the elements of their individuality that they value. There is often also an element of control in the fringe dweller, if they can’t be the alpha of a group they have little interest in being part of the group. Being easily recognized as an individual and being noticed and praised happens mostly to those at the centre of a group or those on the outside.
The second group of fringe dwellers are the ones who are excluded from groups against their wishes and may suffer a great deal by this exclusion. They may often be children who are on the receiving end of bullying or unkindness and may feel desperate to be part of the group that is dishing out their torture. For parents of these children it must be heartbreaking to see their child trying again and again to make friends with the very people who are responsible for their unhappiness in the first place and all those conversations about ‘why would you want to be friends with this person anyway’ go nowhere.
So how can we help the fringe dweller? The self selected FD can be integrated into a group of individuals rather like themselves with some common interest. I remember joining a group of outcast hippy types when I was 14 who wrote and performed poetry, which was hardly mainstream for 14-year-olds even in the late 60s. We were a group of odd bods but we found some enjoyment in being with other nonconformist people and talking about goodness knows what but definitely not pop music or nail varnish. Mind you I didn’t last long, the idea of writing alternative poetry was more apealling than the actuality.
The unwilling FD also needs to find somewhere to belong and that may mean a whole new social scene away from their usual peer group as well as some help with how to get along with others rather than trying to constantly impress them with how wonderful or terrible their life is, their family is, their secrets are. The one thing that all fringe dwellers have in common is that they probably need some help with their social skills, simply understanding how to have conversations or how to meet new people can be completely beyond them although knowing doesn’t necessarily mean being able to put into action. I firmly believe that most of the exceptional people that we know or hear about are fringe dwellers – but alas so are most of the infamous!
And in case you’re wondering – I’m the one on the floor.