Taking off the Masks
October is a very happy month in my household. A special birthday, the fun fall activities, and the cooler weather all generate a buzz of excitement. The long-awaited arrival of Halloween, however, is undoubtedly the main event. Playing dress-up is a daily occurrence for my young children, but they find extra joy in picking out their favorite costume and showing it off to the people they love the most. Receiving candy for their efforts is also a big plus, of course.
Although many have matured past the dress-up stage, teens are navigating this phenomenon in their own unique way. Young people are bombarded with messages about who or what they should become as they get older. The social media accounts they follow, the shows they watch, the music they listen to, and even the people they interact with are shaping their identity bit by bit.
The process of identity discovery is normal and healthy. In fact, according to developmental psychologist Erik Erikson, exploring independence and creating a sense of self is the main developmental task of the adolescent years . Unfortunately, most of the influential voices in a young person's life today stress the importance of fitting in, and putting on any mask necessary in order to do so. What teens (and in reality, all of us) really need as they grow is not the pressure to fit in, but a deep sense of belonging.
In her book, Daring Greatly, professor and author Brene Brown writes,
“Fitting in is one of the greatest barriers to belonging. Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.” 
Brown goes on to explain that the middle schoolers she interviewed for her research had some profound things to say about the difference between fitting in and belonging. One of their descriptions made me pause. They said, “I get to be me if I belong. I have to be like you to fit in.” 
My children might just be putting on super hero masks now, but I know the day is coming where the masks they put on could have a lifelong impact. Will they feel the peace of belonging, or will they join the forever race to fit in? The thought of that makes my heart ache, and also motivates me to cultivate a deep sense of belonging in my own home.
Will you join me? Would you consider inviting your children to explore the idea of belonging with you? Ask them if they feel like they can be wholly themselves in their various environments - especially in your home. Help them “be” rather than “fit” by being vulnerable with them about your own need for belonging, today or in years past. Encourage them to explore who they were created to be. Model to them unique value and authenticity. This is the perfect season to take off the masks!
1. Lewis, R. (2020, April 28). Erikson’s 8 Stages of Psychosocial Development, Explained for Parents. In Healthline. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/parenting/erikson-stages
2. Brown, B. (2012). Daring Greatly (pp. 387-388). New York, NY: Penguin Group US.
Project BestLife Specialist