Father: “My 13-year-old daughter is usually alone during recess. That was the case last year, and seems to be happening again this school year. She hasn’t been lucky with her class, there are some of the biggest puss in the school in it. The few girls she hooks up with want to sit with those guys during recess.

“She has deep dark skin, and attends a predominantly white school. She once said: ‘If only I were just white’. She also says, “Can’t I just group up with the losers?”

“I try to explain to her how children sometimes exclude each other: I myself was a doctor’s child who spoke without a dialect in a farming village, so you could get it too.

“We advised her to join the after-school music class, and that helped a bit. How can we help her further?”

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Making a bond

Trees Pels: “We know that daily contact about small things is important for social acceptance. The distance that can arise between children through appearance-based imagery is reduced through daily chatter and collaboration. Instead of letting the students decide for themselves where they sit and who they work with, the teachers could arrange the groups and tables. For example, they can help reduce the distance between students, so that there is more connection inside and outside the classroom.

“Teenagers hate it when their parents interfere in their social lives, but you can do it elegantly. For example, by sharing your concerns with parents in the class you trust, and to see together whether they can intervene subtly in the behavior of their children. Or you ask parents you like to visit their daughters, so that there is more contact with classmates outside school.

“Advise your daughter to take a good look around to see if there aren’t children at school with whom she can form an alliance. Does she perhaps have a quality she is proud of that she can use to help other children, or a fun hobby that might interest them?”

Find alternative places

Stijn Sieckelinck: “Just as every human being needs food and shelter, acceptance is a basic need. You can really approach the school to help your daughter find her place, especially if there is a suspicion that rejection has to do with her skin color.

“Acceptance is not entirely feasible, there is a good chance that she will never be completely at home in the classroom. We also have to be careful not to let her adapt in such a way that she loses herself. We want to cherish the person she is. But we do grant her valuable relationships. Find alternative places where she can connect. Besides the after-school music club, are there any associations or clubs in the area that she finds interesting and where she can get to know people? Popular culture has more and more idols who show that a different background and limited social skills say nothing about your other talents.

„It is good to know that the categories ‘losers’ and ‘winners’ often tilt. Today’s losers are often tomorrow’s winners, and vice versa. The most popular kids in the class peak a little too early, you might say, while the less popular kids learn perseverance.”