What is Social Isolation?
Beyond Differences is dedicated to ensuring that every child in middle school feels accepted, included and valued by their peers no matter what their difference.
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Middle school is a time when youth tend to be sensitive to social challenges and their self-esteem can be fragile. During this vulnerable time in development, supporting students' sense of belonging at school is of critical importance. Existing research* finds that adolescents' development of a sense of belonging is an important factor in adolescence for creating social and emotional well-being and academic success.
Conversely, feeling socially isolated at school negatively affects the mental health, physical health, and academic outcomes of adolescents. The detrimental health effects of social isolation include poor self-esteem, anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts and actions, increased risk of substance abuse, higher risk of poor physical health and increased mortality.
Social isolation is especially acute among students who are perceived as "different" because of their physical appearance, disability, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, religious beliefs, or other characteristics.
Millions of children are suffering today from feelings of social isolation with no support. As adults, we can all look back on our own middle school experience and recognize that this phenomenon has existed for decades largely without attention and without benefit of programs and interventions. This significant impact on our children's lives remains one of the greatest social challenges of our times.
The issue of bullying has captured the attention of the media, national policy leaders and educators, in part because the behavior and its effects are so overt and obvious. Social isolation, which often underlies bullying, is a more insidious and harder to identify phenomenon. It is also a far more pervasive a problem, experienced by many students regardless of where they are on the social spectrum. It is thus imperative that we intervene during adolescence to reduce and end social isolation before it manifests in more dangerous behaviors, such as self-harm and community violence.
The widespread attitude that "kids will be kids" and middle school is just a painful experience to be endured is misplaced and should be replaced with an attitude that social isolation is deeply harmful to its victims, unacceptable to society and can be eliminated.
Beyond Differences will continue to provide leading research and resources as they become available.
Read more: Differences Shouldn’t Mean Social Isolation