“You would not believe how many clients come to me and tell me how stupid and alone they feel because they like to do things that their friends don’t,” says therapist and founder of TS Therapy, Tami Sobell. “I have had teenagers tell me they love to sew, I have had pre-teens who cannot understand why it’s seen as ‘weird’ to absolutely love learning in school, and I’ve had men and women in their forties and fifties who enjoy playing video games or hanging out with their kids doing arts and crafts. And the thing that connects them all is that they’re always worried about how this might be perceived by their peers.”
What does all this mean though? Why do some people feel as though they are 16 going on 60, and others just 16 going on 17.
“In my practice, teens specifically, will tell me how they feel very disconnected from their peer groups,” Tami explains. “I often have people tell me that they don’t want to do the same things as their friends, that their peers feel ‘too young’ for them, even though they are the same age, and they always ask me why.”
She adds: “I don’t have a straight answer for them, however, this phenomenon could actually be seen as a positive indicator that you are able to define what your interests are actually like at a younger age.”
When we are younger we feel desperate to fit in and, due to being in a ‘pack’ all the time (at school, at university etc.), many people don’t end up thinking for themselves or working out what their personal preferences are. They go with the flow and accept whatever their year group is collectively doing, thus, they feel their age.
And, according to Tami, people are likely to define their likes and dislikes at a younger age due to two totally conflicting factors: confidence and lack of it.
“If a teen is extremely self assured they will feel they don’t need to follow the crowd and they can safely understand what they enjoy and do just that without being overly concerned about the consequences,” she says. “On the opposite side, a teen can be more introverted, and they can often go out of their way to do the opposite of their peers, though this might be due to their lacking in confidence or angst around being in groups.”
But being out of sync isn’t always a bad thing. Lots of recent studies actually show that those who feel older than they are often end up contributing more to society. In fact, scientists have found that people contribute more to the greater good of society (e.g., by helping strangers in need) when they feel subjectively older.
“People are more likely to donate and volunteer if they feel older,” the head researcher of one such study says. In the card-writing experiment, for example, “we found that when we told participants that the average age of other card-writers was 19, they felt older and wrote more notes to staff.”
In short, let’s embrace those parts of ourselves that don’t fit in; that feel out of sync. Let’s explore those traits that our peers are yet to discover the joys of, and let’s help the planet as we do it.